POStPlan becomes a reality: Hours cut at hundreds of offices today, thousands more after the holidays

November 17, 2012

After nearly two years of planning — going back to early 2011, when the Postal Service first proposed changing the rules about staffing post offices without postmasters and redefining "consolidation" — today POStPlan became a reality.  November 17 is the official implementation date for the first group of 500 post offices on the list.  Starting Monday, they'll be open six, four, or just two hours a day.  Over the next few months, thousands more will see their hours cut.  For 13,000 small towns across America, having the post office open a full eight hours a day will soon become a thing of the past.  

The Postal Service has been issuing weekly updates on the progress of POStPlan Implementation.  You can download a spreadsheet with the most recent data from the USPS website here.  An online Google doc spreadsheet is here; a Fusion table, here; and a map, here.  As of November 15, here’s where things stand.

Of the 13,000 post offices set to be reviewed under POStPlan, 5,932 are currently being studied, and a decision has been made to reduce the hours at 2,784 of them.  In only eleven cases has the Postal Service decided to proceed with a discontinuance study: Knoxboro, New York; Hayesville, Iowa; Seville, Georgia; Paoli, Colorado; Lees Creek, Ohio; Perks, Illinois; Fowlerton, Indiana; New Trenton, Indiana; Collins, Wisconsin; Gracey, Kentucky, and Cerulean, Kentucky.  There's no explanation yet on why these were selected for closure rather than reduced hours.

Over four thousand meetings have already taken place, and another thousand will take place over the next three weeks.  The following table breaks things down in more detail.

Meetings Held/Scheduled
Implementation Date Set

To avoid causing problems during the busy holiday mailing season, the Postal Service has declared a moratorium on implementing POStPlan for the period November 18 to January 12.  The public meetings, however, will continue through much of this period, except for December 8 through January 6.

The Postal Service has said it will not implement POStPlan at an office so long as a full-time postmaster is in place, so it has begun with offices where there is a vacancy.  

About 2,200 POStPlan offices had a postmaster vacancy when POStPlan was announced last May.  Around 2,000 POStPlan postmasters probably took the retirement incentive in July.  (A total of 4,000 postmasters retired, but the Postal Service hasn't provided a breakdown, so that's just a guess.)  Some 1,600 POStPlan postmasters probably transferred to a new position a few months ago (the first list of openings came out on May 25).  Another couple of thousand, maybe more, transferred to a position that opened up thanks to the retirements (the second list came out at the end of August).

That adds up to something like 8,000 offices with a postmaster vacancy.  Some 6,000 are currently under review, so another two thousand or more will be added to the implementation list sometime soon.

The Postal Service has repeatedly said that it would take two years to implement POStPlan, and that the process would be "gradual."   But not too gradual, it seems.  By next June, it would appear that over 8,000 post offices will have had their hours reduced — over 60 percent of the 13,000 offices on the list.  

Implementation may slow down at that point, since there won't be many postmaster vacancies opening up — until September 2014, when all those POStPlan postmasters who haven't moved to a new position will lose their jobs and the last of the offices will see their hours cut.  

The Postal Service just posted a loss of nearly $16 billion for the fiscal year.  Over $11 billion of it was due to the health care prefunding mandate; the remaining $5 billion was due to declining mail volumes.  The Postal Service says POStPlan will save about $500 million a year – about 3 percent of this deficit.  Considering how the Postal Service ballparked its numbers and didn't include anything for lost revenue due to shorter hours, even that estimate of annual savings is probably optimistic.  The actual savings will more likely be around $300 million — less than 2 percent of the deficit.  

So there you have it.  Some 13,000 communities suffer the loss of their postmaster and see the hours at their post office cut to a few hours a day, and for what?  So the Postal Service can make a virtually unnoticeable dent in its deficit.  

One can't help but wonder, could the travesty of POStPlan have been avoided if Congress had simply eliminated the unnecessary health care prefunding mandate and returned the FERS overpayments?  Looks like we'll never know the answer to that one.

(Photo credit: Post offices in New Trenton, Indiana, and Fowlerton, Indiana, both among the 11 post offices that will be studied for discontinuance.)

Holler for help: There's no stopping emergency suspensions

November 12, 2012

According to a USPS service disruption report issued on November 10, over 330 post offices were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  About 120 were completely shut down, and another 30 had the retail operations suspended.  Many of these offices remain closed, but it’s likely they will all eventually reopen once power is restored.

The same cannot be said for several other post offices that have been suspended over the past few weeks for reasons other than Sandy.  Since September, when the Postal Service began its implementation of POStPlan, numerous post offices on the list have been closed by emergency suspension, and there’s little chance they’ll ever reopen.

Rather than maintaining these offices at reduced hours as promised, the Postal Service has decided simply to close them.  The explanations being offered for these suspensions aren't very convincing, the circumstances don’t sound like emergencies, and there’s no indication that the closures are only temporary. 

In previous articles on this website, we’ve noted a few cases where the Postal Service suspended offices on the POStPlan list.  For example, the offices in Helen, Maryland and Brownsville, Maryland, were closed by emergency suspension just days after the postmaster retired.  The people in these towns were never given an opportunity to comment on the four POStPlan options (a Village Post Office, rural delivery, a post office in another town, or reduced hours).  They simply received a notice in the mail and found a sign on the door of the post office saying it was suspended due to a lease termination.  

While POStPlan is being advertised as a plan to keep small post offices open, the Postal Service continues to use emergency suspensions to close offices on the list.  Here’s a roundup of a few more examples of the practice.


A VPO replaces the PO in Climax

The post office in Climax, Georgia, was on the POStPlan list, with its hours set to be reduced to six a day.  Its postmaster took the retirement incentive back in July, and since there was a postmaster vacancy, Climax was among the first group of post offices to be reviewed under POStPlan.

On September 28, Climax residents and city officials received the survey about the four POStPlan options, as well as a letter informing them that there would be a public meeting with a representative from the Postal Service on November 8th. 

In mid October, everyone got a second letter from the Postal Service.  This one said that the post office would be closed at the end of the month.  People were obviously confused about what was going on and how the Postal Service could have decided to close the office before the meeting even took place.

The post office closed on October 31, and the meeting was held, as scheduled, on November 8, in the parking lot of the (closed) post office.  Angela Collier, the Postal Service operations manager, explained that the office was being suspended because the lease expired and could not be renewed. 

As reported in the local news, Collier said that while she did not have first-hand knowledge of the negotiations — they'd had been handled by the USPS’s Facilities Department — her understanding was that the landlord said, “this is what I want, period,” and the Postal Service said, “this is what we can do, period.”  Since “those two would never match,” said Collier, the negotiations ended, and the post office was closed for an emergency suspension.

The landlord of the Climax post office building, Morgan Wolaver, has a different version of what happened.  Mr. Wolaver, by the way, is not your typical post office lessor, someone who usually owns one or two post offices and doesn’t have much experience negotiating leases with the Postal Service.  Mr. Wolaver’s family has been in the business of owning and leasing post office buildings for over fifty years, and they own dozens of them.  Mr. Wolaver also happens to be the President of the AUSPL, the country’s largest association of postal lessors.  There aren't many people who know more about negotiating leases with the Postal Service than Mr. Wolaver.

In a conversation this morning, Mr. Wolaver told me the Climax story as he saw it.  In mid-July, a couple of weeks after the postmaster decided to retire, the Postal Service’s real estate agent, CBRE, finally contacted him about renewing the lease.  Negotiations on lease renewals traditionally begin six months to a year before the end of the lease, so Mr. Wolaver was concerned that CBRE had waited until there were just three and a half months left on the lease. 

POStPlan Implementation: 5,600 offices under review, hours to be reduced at 500 on November 17

November 7, 2012

The Postal Service has provided NAPUS with a list of post offices impacted by the first phase of the implementation of POStPlan.  Some 13,000 post offices will be reviewed under POStPlan for reduced hours or discontinuance.  The list provided to NAPUS contains the first group of 5,742 post offices.  The NAPUS list is here; a Google table version is here; and a Google spreadsheet is here.  [Update: The Postal Service has released a newer version of the list, dated Nov. 8, 2012, with 5,873 post offices under review.  That list is here; a Google table version is here; and a Google spreadsheet is here.]

At nearly all of the phase-1 offices (5,568 of them), a meeting date has already been scheduled.  As of November 7, about 3,271 meetings have already taken place, with the remaining 2,400 or so scheduled for between November 8 and April 17.

The first post offices will see their hours reduced on November 17.  Here’s how the list breaks down so far by implementation date:

Implementation date
Number of Offices

The list of 5,700 offices includes about 1,500 post offices that had a postmaster vacancy when POStPlan was first announced back in May.  As best as we’ve been able to determine from previous lists made public by the Postal Service, there were something like 2,200 offices with a vacancy.  That would mean there are about 700 offices that didn’t have a postmaster as of May that are yet to be scheduled for review.

The list of 5,700 looks as though it includes about 4,000 post offices where a postmaster vacancy developed after POStPlan was announced.  Something like half of these are probably offices where the postmaster took the retirement incentive during the summer; the other half are offices where the postmaster left to take another position within the Postal Service (like a position that opened up after a postmaster retired).  Those are just estimates since the Postal Service announced that about 4,000 postmasters took the buyout, but it didn't say how many worked at POStPlan offices and how many worked at offices not impacted by POStPlan.

The Postal Service has made a decision to reduce the hours for 2,417 offices, leaving about 3,300 where a decision has not been made.  In nearly every case, the decision was to reduce the hours. 

There are eight post offices, however, where the decision was to study the post office for discontinuance.  Those offices are: Knoxboro, New York; Hayesville, Iowa; Seville, Georgia; Paoli, Colorado; Lees Creek, Ohio; Perks, Illinois; Fowlerton, Indiana; and New Trenton, Indiana.  There’s no word yet on why these eight communities will be studied for closure rather than having the hours reduced.  [Update: The new list released Nov. 8 contains one additional office being studied for discontinuance: Collins, Wisconsin.] 

In the meantime, in Great Cacapon, West Virginia, where a decision had been made to reduce the hours at the post office, a nonprofit organization named AdvoCare has filed a complaint with the Postal Regulatory Commission.  The complaint alleges that the POStPlan violates Title 39 because it discriminates among users of the mail, because the decision to reduce the hours was “arbitrary and capricious” (the Great Cacapon post office actually brings in a considerable amount of revenue), and because the Postal Service was intentionally deceptive in its survey and nonresponsive in other ways.

The PRC has already given its blessings to POStPlan in an advisory opinion, so it’s not likely that the Commission will determine that anything in the plan violates Title 39.  But the complaint is very thorough and makes some good points, so it will be interesting to see how the Postal Service and the PRC respond.

The PRC website has a message from Chairman Ruth Goldway inviting comments from the public about how the implementation of POStPlan is going.  If you’d like to share your experiences, you’re encouraged to contact the PRC’s office of Public Affairs and Government Relations at:

Phone:  202-789-6800
 Fax: 202-789-6891.

(Image credit: Great Capacon, WV post office)

How the Postal Service foundered: Parceling out the responsibility

November 1, 2012


Over the last several months the situation surrounding the fate of the Postal Service has become increasingly clear.

How can that possibly be the case, when Congress has utterly failed in its efforts to pass postal reform legislation, when mail volumes continue to drop, when troubling news about financial losses continue to appear, and when the agency has now reached its borrowing limit with the Treasury?  How can such an unsettled and unsettling situation seem so clear?

The situation is clear because no matter what Congress eventually does, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the Board of Governors have already won.  Their views of what the Postal Service should be, whom it should serve, and how it should serve them have prevailed.  The reality is that as the Postal Service has moved forward with initiatives like POST Plan and the “rationalization” of the mail processing system, the PMG and the BOG have degraded the network and its potential in such a way as to make a change in course not just expensive but impossible.

The initiatives to degrade and dismantle the network have worked in conjunction with a business plan focused almost entirely on advertising mail.  The leaders of the Postal Service have set the course in a direction that cannot be easily changed. The Postal Service has always been an example of inertia; like a massive oil tanker, it changes direction neither quickly nor easily.  The PMG and the BOG have displayed outright disregard for the advice of their regulator and total contempt for providing service to the American public.  They have put the postal ship on a course that will inevitably result in fewer jobs, decreased service, and ultimately privatization.


Ignoring the public interest

The politicians both in Congress and in the Administration have essentially abandoned the American people in their handling of the Postal Service.  They have allowed the stilted vision of the BOG — a vision born of the same views that have fostered the growth of inequality throughout our economy — to take precedence over the needs and welfare of the American public.  They have sanctioned a continued attack on American labor through policies that destroy good middle-class jobs and replace them with temporary and part-time jobs with no benefits.  They have set the stage for millions of Americans to lose essential services and an essential infrastructure, while creating the potential for abuse by a predatory financial services industry.

It should come as no surprise that most of those in Congress are willing to sacrifice the Postal Service to limited business interests.  These are the same folks that have almost universally perpetuated the myth that “entitlements” — a term that insidiously demeans what ought to be basic social responsibilities of a civilized nation — are the source of our economic policies.  These are the folks that insult and assault public workers as if a job in the public sector — one that provides useful and necessary public goods — is somehow less valuable or less important than a job in the private sector.

Politicians of both parties have embraced macroeconomic policies that result in the decline of incomes for the vast majority of Americans while ensuring that the benefits of society are unequally reserved for the few at the top.  They degrade the quality of life and economic opportunities for the vast majority of Americans with policies designed primarily to satisfy the financiers.

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