June 6, 2012
THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION has named the Historic Post Office Building to its annual list of the 11 most endangered places. The Trust has a story, a slideshow, a feature on the post office in Geneva, Illinois, and a press release (which has the most details). The Chicago Tribune also has a story, and the Associated Press has another.
The National Trust has put the historic post office on its endangered list because the Postal Service, as part of its big push to downsize its retail network, has been selling off post office buildings, many of them valuable national treasures.
"This isn't about taking on the post office," explains Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Of course we don't quibble with the post office having to do what they have to do to manage their business, but we do want to make sure there's a thoughtful process in place for managing the historic resources."
The Trust notes that the “lack of a transparent and uniform national process from the Postal Service — one that follows federal preservation laws when considering disposal of these buildings — is needlessly placing the future of many historic post office buildings in doubt." The Trust hopes to work with the Postal Service "to develop a consistent, sensitive, and transparent process that follows established federal preservation law for protecting historic post office buildings targeted for disposition."
One of the communities especially pleased by the news from the National Trust is La Jolla, California, which was singled out for special attention by the Trust, along with Gulfport, Mississippi, Fernandina Beach, Florida, and Geneva, Illinois. The folks in La Jolla have been fighting hard to save their historic New Deal post office, under threat of sale for many months now. They’ve put up a Facebook page and website, and it looks like they’ve gotten the attention of Senator Feinstein. There may even be a call for legislation to protect historic post offices. A flurry of articles came out today about the La Jolla post office: U-T San Diego, La Jolla Patch, La Jolla Light, and SD News.
Legacy for Sale
Three-fourths of the country’s 32,000 post offices are housed in leased spaces, but the Postal Service owns about owns 8,989 post-office properties, including post office buildings, vacant land for post-office development or modular post offices. According to David Partenheimer, a postal service spokesman, some 28% of those properties — about 2,500 — are either on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible to be listed due to their historical significance. A search of the National Register shows 869 post offices currently listed, most no longer active. A preliminary review suggests there are over 300 currently active post offices on the National Register. You can see images of many of the post offices on the National Register on wikipedia.
(In an AP story about the National Trust's announcement, USPS spokesperson Sue Brennan said there are 55 post offices on the National Register. We're checking on that.)
Over a thousand post offices were built during the New Deal. They are particularly significant because of their famous murals. According to Dallan Wordekemper, Postal Service historian, about 800 of the New Deal post offices contain priceless sculptures and murals, often prized more than the buildings themselves. Although often mistakenly identified as WPA murals, they were produced under the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture, later called the Section of Fine Arts.
Over the past year, the Postal Service has embarked on a plan to dispose of its vast real estate holdings, and many of these New Deal post offices have already been sold. Last July, the Postal Service entered into a contract with the largest commercial real estate company in the world, CB Richard Ellis, to manage lease negotiations and sales. In November, CBRE and the USPS started a website displaying some of properties for sale. There are about 80 listed right now, a good number of them historic properties.
As of last September, the Postal Service had already sold $140 million in post offices and other property during fiscal year 2011, according to USPS spokesperson Sue Brennan. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Postal officials say it's unclear how many of these historically significant post offices will be sold, but many communities are already starting to see the for-sale signs go up.”
Over the past year, at least 43 historic post offices have been sold or put on the market:
June 5, 2012
Yesterday the Postal Regulatory Commission put out a press release announcing that it has established the docket (N2012-2) for its Advisory Opinion on POStPlan, the Postal Service’s plan to cut hours at 13,000 post offices.
The Chairman of the PRC, Ruth Goldway, encourages postal customers “to become familiar with the new proposal and to let the Commission know of their interests and needs.” POStPlan isn’t going to be challenged by the postmasters associations, NAPUS and the League of Postmasters, so it’s especially important for the public to make its views known to the Commission.
You can send your comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission, 901 New York Avenue NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC, 20268-0001. Mention the docket number, N2012-2. You can also submit comments online using the customer service form, here. If you want to suggest questions that might be put to the Postal Service about the plan, you could probably also contact the Public Representative assigned to the case, Emmett Rand Costich, at email@example.com.
The process will be chaired not by Chairman Goldway, but by Vice Chairman Nanci Langley. No explanation on that, but perhaps Chairman Goldway has her hands full with the Advisory Opinion on Network Rationalization, which will be running concurrently, as well as the many other open dockets. Judging by the many dissenting opinions Langley wrote for appeals cases in which she challenged the Postal Service's decision to close the post office, it looks like the chair responsibilities are in good hands with Commissioner Langley.
The procedural schedule, short but sweet
The PRC has also published its procedural schedule for the Advisory Opinion on POStPlan. Compared to the schedule for previous Advisory Opinions, this one is brief, and one wonders why.
The Postal Service’s Request for an Advisory Opinion was submitted on May 25, and the schedule will be completed by July 27, unless there’s rebuttal testimony. That’s nine weeks. The Opinion itself will probably be issued in August.
For the Opinion on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), the plan to close 3,700 post offices, the Request was filed on July 27, 2011, and the schedule ran until November 10 — a total of 15 weeks.
The official explanation for the short schedule on POStPlan, as conveyed through PRC spokesperson Ann Fisher, is that the POStPlan Advisory Opinion builds upon the PRC’s previous work on the retail network. It has already studied the 2009 Stations and Branches Optimization and Consolidation (SBOC) initiative as well as the 2011 RAOI. The procedural schedule was also informed by a preliminary review of the Request for an Advisory Opinion, which was relatively brief and not accompanied by much else — just a few library references and the testimony of one witness, Jeffrey C. Day, who's apparently in charge of the plan.
In other words, the short schedule is due partly to the fact that this is the PRC's third Opinion on the retail network, so a lot of the groundwork has already been done. In some respects, one could even view POStPlan as the Postal Service’s response to the Commission’s Opinion on the RAOI. Not that the Postal Service necessarily sees it that way — it doesn't even mention the RAOI in its Request for an Advisory Opinion or in witness Day's testimony.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that the Postal Service never issued a formal reply to the PRC about its Opinion on the RAOI, which it did do on the Five-Day Delivery case. It never challenged any of the Commission’s findings, never publicly acknowledged the Opinion at all.
June 4, 2012
The Postal Service does not give out much information about the revenues post offices bring in, but it has provided enough data to enable one to make estimates. So we've done a little figuring and made a table with estimated revenues for FY 2011 for all 17,700 post offices on the POStPlan list.
You can view a spreadsheet here (good for an overview) or a Fusion table here (good for a map view, charts, and other analytic tools). You can go straight to a map here. The easiest way to find the revenue estimate for a particular post office is probably to use the Fusion table: Click on Options > Filter, and select Office Name or Zip > Starts with, and type in the name of the office (in ALL CAPS) or the zip code (3 digit, 5, or whatever).
Keep in mind that these revenue numbers are strictly estimates, based on a methodology described below. They're mostly useful for getting the big picture; the number for any given post office could be significantly off.
The Postal Service prefers not to provide revenue data for its post offices. About the only time one learns anything about how much revenue a particular post office takes in is when the Postal Service decides to close it. A Final Determination always contains a cost-savings analysis that includes a few details about the revenues, including the total revenues for the past three years — usually cited to show they're declining. (The Postal Service never mentions that the recession may have had something to do with the decline.)
Last year, when the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) was doing its Advisory Opinion on the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) — the plan to close 3,700 post offices — the Commission requested a spreadsheet showing walk-in revenue data for all USPS retail facilities. The Postal Service submitted the material as a “non-public” library reference, meaning that only selected participants in the Advisory Opinion process could see it.
The Postal Service explained that it regards revenue figures to be "commercially-sensitive and proprietary information that should not be released into the public domain.” In its request for non-public status, the Postal Service told the PRC that it would not be “good business practice” to release this information, and making it public could cause the Postal Service to suffer "commercial harm.”
A couple of weeks ago, as part of its PRC testimony on POStPlan, the Postal Service submitted a large spreadsheet entitled "Summary" that contains data about the operations of each post office on the POStPlan list. It has calculations for retail workload, administrative workload, and so on, for all 17,700 post offices impacted by POStPlan. (You can download the spreadsheet from the PRC website here. An abridged version with just the financial data is on Google Docs, here.)
The Postal Service also provided a second spreadsheet for Average Annual Retail Revenue for POStPlan offices for FY2011. This one just has a few numbers. It’s grouped by EAS level, and it breaks out total walk-in revenue averages for each level by categories — stamp sales, meter revenue, p.o. box fees, etc.
By combining the information in the two spreadsheets, one can come up with a rough estimate for the revenues at each post office. Here's how:
June 2, 2012
When the Postal Service gave the Postal Regulatory Commission its request for an Advisory Opinion on POStPlan — the plan to reduce hours at 13,000 post offices — it provided no cost-savings analysis. In his testimony, USPS witness Jeffrey Day says only that "the Postal Service anticipates that the POStPlan will provide significant labor cost savings due to lower salary and benefit costs and a reduction in overall retail window hours."
While putting a number on the savings can cause problems with the PRC, publicly the Postal Service has been more forthcoming, and there's a press release on the USPS website saying that the plan would save a half billion dollars annually. The press release provides no details, but using all the data that's out there, one can imagine how the Postal Service might be figuring things.
The following table provides estimates about how much the POStPlan post offices cost to operate (for labor) before and after implementation. The numbers on impacted post offices and postmaster salaries come from a POStPlan presentation available on the League of Postmasters’ website; some of them also appear in Day's testimony. The rest of the table represents calculations based on those numbers. Additional assumptions are described below. The calculations do not include Saturday, since the Postal Service has said nothing about changing Saturday hours as part of POStPlan.
The total cost of labor for the 17,725 post offices impacted by POStPlan is currently about $1.1 billion. That figure is derived by estimating what the total cost of labor would be if a postmaster staffed every office — $1.33 billion — and then subtracting $200 million to correct for the fact that about 4,000 post offices are currently staffed not by a postmaster but by a Postmaster Relief (PMR), who earns about a third as much.