What are people — and the Post Office — for?

May 15, 2012


It’s likely that I will be the last postmaster to serve the town of Webster, North Carolina.  The first postmaster, Allen Fisher, began his term in 1857, shortly after Jackson County was founded and Webster became the county seat.  The names of the postmasters that follow read like a county census.  In a rural mountain county that was fairly isolated well into the 20TH Century, the same family names filled many a civic obligation.

Miss Eugenia Allison was the longest serving postmaster, from 1914 until 1948.  Mildred Cowan served from 1950 through 1976.  When I became postmaster, I found letters Ms. Cowan had written to the old Post Office Department begging for a new building or at least better heat in the shack that served as a post office.

I will have been the third longest serving postmaster at Webster, although I don’t count that as much of a distinction.  I took a downgrade in coming here fourteen years ago.  Webster was on the same side of the mountain as my farm and that meant less of a drive.  More important, Webster was a one-person office, and I had soured on the idea of supervising others in a postal system where autocracy and duplicity trumped common sense and basic decency.  It’s been easy being here.

I live next door to the post office now, in a house that has stood since the town was founded.  I rebuilt the house and my life after a divorce.  Living next door to my office and being so accessible to my community has made the job of postmaster even more meaningful.

I had long planned to retire in July of this year.  I had the age and years, and health issues and personal concerns made it seem like the right time.  The changes wrought by the POSt Plan will take Webster to six hours a day whenever I leave, and while I have toyed with the idea of staying a couple of years to forestall that, it just doesn’t seem to make much sense.  I suppose the incentive payment is entering into my thinking, but not much.  It isn’t enough to make a difference.

No, if I am to be the last of the Webster postmasters, then I might as well get on with it.


THE POSTPLAN is little more than a cruel joke.  It offers hope to those who thought they might lose their local post office.  In reality it is little more than an interim step towards closing 13,000 post offices, maybe more.  The fact is that the dramatic prescriptions originally offered by Mr. Donahoe could never have occurred at the rate initially announced. It would have been operationally infeasible to close offices at the rate Mr. Donahoe wanted — 15,000 in five years.  But just by threatening those closures, POStPlan looks like a reasonable alternative.

It isn’t.

POStPlan: Map, Charts, & More

May 14, 2012

On May 9, the Postal Service released POStPlan, its new plan for small rural post offices.  The plan will impact 13,000 post offices.  Over the coming months, the Postal Service will begin holding community meetings to discuss the options: replace the post office with a "village post office" (a postal counter in a private business), close the post office and switch to rural delivery, or keep the post office open at reduced hours — two, four, or six hours per day, depending on the office's revenues.  Full-time careeer postmasters will be replaced by part-time workers at these part-time offices.  Details about the plan are here.

You can see the official USPS list here, and there's a map on Save the Post Office, here.  

A much better version of the map and list can be found on Google Fusion Tables: List and Map.  Google makes it possible to sort, filter, analyze, chart, and map the list in many ways.  There are several options and features, so here's a guide to help you get started.

POStPlan by the numbers

May 12, 2012

The Postal Service's POStPlan initiative announced on May 9, 2012, would reduce hours at 13,000 post offices from eight hours a day to six, four, and in some cases, two.  Here's how the list provided by the Postal Service breaks down.   (An overview of the plan is here.) 

The plan would reduce the total number of operating hours per day at these 13,000 offices from about 100,000 hours to 57,000 — a reduction of 43,000 hours or 43%.  Over the course of a year, hours of operation would be reduced by over 11 million hours (43,000 x 260 weekdays — the plan doesn't deal with Saturdays).

The country has 32,000 post offices.  Figuring they operate eight hours a day (not all do), five days a week, the total operating hours for the USPS retail network comes to about 66 million hours.  POStPlan would thus reduce that by 11 million hours, or 16%.  

The Postal Service brings in about $12 billion at retail windows (most of its $65 billion in revenue enters the system at processing plants and bulk mail entry units).  The post offices on the POStPlan list bring in a smaller portion of that $12 billion than their numbers might suggest (they're on the list because they're low revenue), but if the 16% decrease in total network operating hours translated into just a 2% decrease in revenues, the Postal Service would lose $240 million.  

Just to look at it a slightly different way:  Say the 13,000 post offices on the POStPlan list bring in $800 million in revenues (a rought estimate based on various sources), and let's say that when they're closed almost half the day, 25% of that revenue goes elsewhere.  That would come to $200 million in lost revenue.

In other words, figured either way, the revenue losses could be significant, and they could wipe out a large part of the estimated cost savings of $500 million. 

Ralph Nader Calls New Postal Service Plan a “Bait and Switch” Tactic, Not Good News for Rural Post Offices

May 11, 2012

[Press release]

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said today, “The Postmaster General’s Post Office Structure Plan (“POSt Plan”) is a bait and switch tactic, and it is not good news for rural Post Offices or their customers.” 

The Postmaster General claims that his new strategy, released on Wednesday, is designed to benefit rural Americans and keep open the 3,652 postal facilities it was considering for closure. Though it is unclear how many of these offices are included in the “POSt Plan”, it seems that many of them have been incorporated in the new plan as well. The new direction that the Postmaster General proposed is to cut hours at nearly 13,000 Post Offices and offer early retirement incentives for more than 21,000 non-executive postmasters.

“As more details about the plan emerge, the picture grows increasingly dire for rural customers of the U.S. Postal Service,” Nader observed. “I expressed deep concern about the preliminary details of the Postmaster General’s on Wednesday. Unfortunately, those fears were confirmed as we have analyzed the details of the Postmaster General’s new strategy.”

On Privatization

Good Reading on Postal Privatization

Also: Sarah Ryan's "Understanding Postal Privatization: Corporations, Unions, and the "Public Interest"

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