Emergency Suspensions

Graham, MO post office suspended for structural concerns

June 10, 2015

Built in 1891 as an Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall, the Post Office in Graham, Missouri, was recently closed due to structural concerns. The Postal Service said a decision on whether to reopen the office, possibly in another location, will not be made for another 12 to 18 months.  Read more.

Post office in Korbel, California, closed for emergency suspension

March 17, 2014

The post office in Korbel, California (95550) was closed for an emergency suspension last week, apparently on one days’ notice to customers.  The notice on the door is dated March 10, 2014; it says the post office will be closed as of March 11. 

The reason given in the notice is simply “foundational and structural issues with the building.”  Part of the structure seems to be settling a bit, as one can see from photos of the floor by the door and the flag pole out of alignment.

The Korbel post office was one of 3,650 post offices slated for closure in 2011 (under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative), but back in January 2013 it ended up having its hours reduced to four a day under POStPlan.

The lease was due to expire on February 20, 2014, but there’s no word that the lease termination had anything to do with the suspension.  It’s even possible that the lease was renewed, but that’s not looking very likely at this point.  In fact, it appears that this post office won’t be re-opening anytime soon, if ever.  The carrier case and post office boxes have been moved to Blue Lake, which is a couple of miles away.

The annual rent on the Korbel post office is $4,200 a year, and it was staffed by a part-time worker earning about $12 an hour, for a total of about $16,000 a year including modest benefits and leave time.  Closing the Korbel post office could thus save about $20,000 a year.  But a permanent closure will require a discontinuance study, not merely an emergency suspension.

Korbel is a small town in Humboldt County in northern California.  It's named after the Korbel brothers, founders of Korbel Wines, who built a sawmill and company town there back in 1881.  It was originally called North Fork, but it was renamed Korbel with the arrival of the post office in 1891.  In the upper left corner of the photo, you can see the historic Blue Lake Bridge over the Mad River.

Why I did it and what’s at stake: Shining the light on NSAs

December 3, 2013


A couple of weeks ago I filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission requesting access to the documents related to the Negotiated Service Agreement (NSA) on the program to deliver Amazon parcels on Sundays.  As I write this, the PRC has not yet ruled on my request, but regardless of what happens, I hope a useful purpose will have been served. (There's more about the motion and the oppositions filed by the USPS and Amazon in this post.)

In making this request and writing about it, I hope to draw attention to the PRC cases that administer the competitive products list and review new NSAs.  The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 has long been vilified as the major source of the Postal Service’s problems because it mandates $5.5 billion in annual payments for the prefunding of retiree health benefits, which has been the major cause of the losses reported by the Postal Service since 2007.  I would suggest, however, that in the long term, the most damaging and dangerous part of the PAEA was the separation of the Postal Service’s activities into categories of market-dominant and competitive products.

For those who view the activities of the Postal Service as a public service and the postal network as part of our nation’s infrastructure, the language of the PAEA ought to be seen as troubling.  Since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1971, there’s been a push to make the Postal Service more businesslike.  For many, the term “businesslike” was intended simply to mean “efficient,” and there was no reason to question the virtue of efficiency, but there were others, including the leadership of the Postal Service and majorities in both parties in Congress, who took the language quite literally:  The Postal Service was to become more of a business, with its behavior and incentives guided by a corporate mindset and perspective.

By viewing the service of delivering mail in terms of commercial products, the concept of the postal network as a form of open-access infrastructure was replaced by the idea of the Postal Service as corporate entity.  The goal of managing and regulating the Postal Service shifted away from maintaining an efficient, cost-effective means of delivering an essential public service.  The goal instead became restraining the conduct of a corporate monopoly.

Dividing postal products into market-dominant and competitive products further undermined the notion of the Postal Service as a provider of a public service.  The division codified the view that some aspects of the Postal Service were extraneous to its public service mission and existed solely to compete with private sector offerings and presumably earn profits.

The problem with this view is that it quickly undermines any rationale for public service, replacing it with a full-speed-ahead approach towards turning our nation’s postal network into little more than a business proposition.  Placed in a situation of serving two distinct and often opposing missions, policy makers and postal leadership have not surprisingly taken the easier road of defining the Postal Service as a profit-seeking enterprise. 

A public service mission is difficult to fulfill.  It requires constant evaluation, assessment, and institutional self-examination.  Defining efficiency and success in a public service is much more complex than the more clear-cut metric of profitability in a business enterprise.  A business can content itself with measuring success in dollars and cents, whereas the success of a public service is measured, at least in part, by intangibles like enhancing social value, maintaining community identity, and promoting universal service and access.  These measures may be less concrete than profit, but they are certainly no less valuable.

We don’t ask our national parks to make money, and we don’t ask them to cover their costs by generating sufficient revenues in access fees.  NASA and the NIH aren’t required to turn a profit because we recognize that basic research and the intellectual property it generates return tremendous value to our society.  We don’t make our interstate highways toll roads nor do we limit them to only the highest populated areas.  We realize that a transportation network offers opportunity that results in enhanced economic potential.  And we don’t ask our military to break even.  We consider defense of the Republic to be an essential public service.

We understand that these infrastructures and the services they provide are useful and productive.  We don't expect them to be accountable in terms of profits and losses.  We are wise enough to recognize that the benefits they provide cannot be calculated in the terms of a ledger sheet.

For some reason, however, many people believe the case of the Postal Service is different.  Because paying postage fees for using the postal system is taken for granted, we have been led to believe that the entire value of our postal infrastructure is limited to the fees it generates.  It clearly isn’t.  

Historic Courthouse post office in Danville suspended over paint problem

December 2, 2013

The historic Courthouse post office on Main Street in Danville, Virginia, had its hours cut to four a day back in August.   The Danville P.O. wasn't part of POStPlan, but apparently reducing hours at post offices isn't limited to the 13,000 facilities on the POStPlan list.  Now the Danville post office is closing completely for an emergency suspension.  The reason?  Some paint, suspected of containing lead, was found in back rooms during a safety inspection.  The post office is located in a building owned by the Postal Service, which also houses the US District Court and the US Marshal’s Office.  No word yet if the whole building shut down or just the post office, and there's no indication the building is headed for sale.  Read more.

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