POStPlan implementation: 9,000 post offices downgraded, 4,000 to go, RIF's coming

March 23, 2014

The Postal Service is continuing to implement POStPlan, its initiative to reduce hours at 13,000 post offices and replace their postmasters with part-time workers.  At this point, POStPlan has been implemented, or will be implemented soon, at almost 9,000 post offices.  Hours at the remaining 4,000 will be reduced over the coming months.  By October, the institution of the small-town career postmaster will become a thing of the past at almost half the country's post offices.

As best as we can figure it using USPS lists, about 8,800 post offices have had their hours reduced over the past year and a half (including those where implementation is scheduled over the next few weeks).  For another 300 offices, a public meeting was held recently or it's scheduled soon, but no implementation date has been announced.  

That leaves around 3,900 post offices where no meeting has yet been scheduled and implementation has yet to occur.   At many of these offices, there's currently a postmaster vacancy; at others, a vacancy will open up over the coming months if the postmaster can find a new position.  If implementation continues at the current rate (about a hundred a month), some 600 of these post offices will have their hours reduced during the spring and summer.  

In the end, there will be something like 3,300 post offices where the postmaster will still be on the job as of September 30, 2014.  On that date, these postmasters will lose their full-time jobs as part of a Reduction in Force — i.e., they will be RIF’d.

Using some lists that the Postal Service has made available, we've put together the following lists of POStPlan post offices:

  • List and map of approximately 8,850 post offices where implementation has already occurred or been scheduled;
  • List and map of 290 meetings scheduled for February - April, 2014;
  • List and map of 3,920 offices where POStPlan has yet to be implemented or a meeting scheduled.

Note that these lists are based on USPS reports, but some errors inevitably occurred while processing the data.  The official lists of meetings are here; the implementation reports are here.

We're listening: The Postal Service holds 8,500 POStPlan meetings, but why?

October 24, 2013

Yesterday the Postal Service gave the Postal Regulatory Commission a copy of the Household Diary Study, the annual report on mail use and attitudes.  The study says this about how people are using their post office:

"In spite of a declining frequency of visits over the past five years, the use of post offices for mailing services continues to dominate the mail service industry.  Sixty percent of all U.S. households patronize a post office at least once a month, while just 11 percent visit a private mailing company.  Over 28 percent of all households in the U.S. visit the post office three or more times a month.  Even with the continued availability of mailrelated products and services through alternative modes (such as Internet orders), in-person visits to postal facilities remain strong."

One might think that with so many people patronizing their post office, the Postal Service would be more interested in preserving its legacy of brick-and-mortar post offices.  Instead, we have POStPlan, the initiative to eliminate postmasters and reduce hours at 13,000 small post offices.

The implementation of POStPlan is past halfway.  The Postal Service provides bi-monthly lists of where POStPlan has been implemented; the source page is here, the merged list is here, and an article about the implementation, here.  The Postal Service website also has a page where all the POStPlan meetings are listed on a week-by-week basis, which you can find here.  We’ve merged all the lists into one big list on Google docs, here, along with a map

The list of meetings indicates that as of today, the Postal Service has held over 8,400 meetings to talk over POStPlan options with each community; another hundred or so are scheduled for the coming weeks.

Of the total of around 8500 meetings, about 4,500 took place in a town hall, church, or similar location; the other 4,000 took place in the post office itself.  Most of the POStPlan offices are small, so in many cases the folks at the meeting had to stand in a crowded little lobby area.

The meetings have been scheduled in the afternoon and evening; very few were in the morning.  About 3,400 began sometime between noon and 4 p.m.; 3,000, between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.; and 2,000, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.  That means that in three out of four towns, people who work during the day were unable to attend.

There have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of news reports about these meetings.  They tell the same story.  The Postal Service representative, usually the postmaster in the APO (administrative post office) or someone from the district headquarters, explains how falling mail volumes and revenues have made it necessary to look for cost-cutting moves. 

The small group gathered in the post office lobby or a town hall is told that they have four options.  Three involve closing the post office — have the mail delivered to your house, use another post office, or find a local business that wants to sell stamps and perhaps other postal products.  The fourth is to keep the post office open at reduced hours.  Naturally, in virtually every case, the community has chosen reduced hours.  The news reports often cheer this result, with headlines like “post office saved” and “post office not closing.”

That outcome was easy to predict, but the Postal Service nonetheless went through the process of sending out questionnaires and holding meetings in thousands and thousands of small towns across the country.  The goal was obviously not to give people an opportunity to decide something.  Reducing the hours was the only viable alternative.

One has to wonder, then, why the Postal Service has invested so much time and expense in holding all these meetings.  They weren't required by any laws or regulations.  Why bother when the outcome was a foregone conclusion?

POStPlan implementation 60 percent done: Hours reduced at over 8,000 post offices

October 2, 2013

The Postal Service is well along in its implementation of POStPlan, the initiative to cut hours at 13,000 post offices and replace their postmasters with part-time workers.  Since beginning the process a year ago, the Postal Service has reduced hours at about 8,300 post offices.  Another couple of hundred will be reduced over the coming weeks.

In the request for an exigent rate increase submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission last week, the Postal Service reviewed some of the steps it has taken to cut costs over the past few years, including POStPlan. The request indicates that in the first nine months of 2013, the Postal Service had implemented POStPlan at 7,397 post offices.

There were about 600 or 700 post offices where implementation took place in the fall of 2012.  Another 166 implementations are scheduled for this month.  In addition, 193 post offices had meetings scheduled for September and October, and they will have their hours reduced later this year.  That adds up to about 8,400 post offices.

Since the beginning of 2013, the Postal Service has published bimonthly lists of of the post offices where POStPlan has been implemented.  A list merging all those lists is here, and a map is here.  The list includes the implementations from 2012 as well.  A separate list of the meetings scheduled for September and October is here (lists of all the meetings are here).

The Postal Service has implemented POStPlan only at offices where there was a postmaster vacancy.  At offices where the postmaster has chosen to stay on, POStPlan will not be implemented until September 30, 2014.

The 8,400 postmaster vacancies where POStPlan has been implemented breaks down to something like this: About 2,200 offices had a postmaster vacancy when POStPlan was announced in May 2012.  About 4,000 postmasters took the retirement incentive last summer, of which maybe 2,200 were at POStPlan offices (a rough guess).  Something like 1,600 POStPlan postmasters transferred to a new position in early fall 2012, another couple of thousand transferred to a position that opened up thanks to the retirements, and a few hundred more have found new positions in recent months.

At this point, POStPlan implementation is over 60 percent complete.  This state-by-state breakdown shows that implementation has been fairly uniform across the country.  In a few states (Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire), the implementation rate is a bit higher, but this is probably just a function of where the postmaster vacancies are occurring.

The rate of implementation has slowed down over the course of the year.  As this table shows, during the first quarter of 2013, some 4,600 offices had their hours reduced; during the second quarter, 2,200; and during the third, about 600.  The decreasing rate of implementation reflects the fact that there aren’t many offices developing new postmaster vacancies. 

Implementation will probably proceed at a pace of about a hundred a month or less for much of 2014.  By September 2014, when all of the remaining POStPlan offices will have their hours reduced and all remaining postmasters will be removed from their positions by RIF (Reduction in Force), there will probably be about 4,000 postmasters still in their jobs. 

A few of them may be ready to retire anyway — they just passed up the 2012 incentive offer because they wanted to work another two years.  But for most of them, September 30, 2014, will be a very unhappy day. 

At least in the other POStPlan post offices, the postmaster retired voluntarily or transferred to another post office. For the last 4,000 POStPlan postmasters, there will be nothing very voluntary about how they depart from the Postal Service.

(Photo credit: Post office in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, which is having its POStPlan meeting today.)

Previous posts about POStPlan implementation:

The Magical Postal Publicity Tour: Over 7,000 POStPlan Meetings, and Counting

February 24, 2013

The Postal Service is plowing ahead with its community meetings on POStPlan.  As of Friday, it had held 6,741 meetings, and it has scheduled an additional 474 through March 15.

That’s a total of 7,215 meetings — well more than half the list of 13,000 post offices that are seeing their hours reduced.  Before last week, implementation was complete at about 2,800 post offices.  On Saturday, another 737 joined the list, bringing the total number of post offices that have seen their hours reduced to over 3,500.   (The weekly meeting lists are posted on the USPS website here; you can see the entire list as a table here and spreadsheet here.  The implementation dates can be found here and here.)

About 3,500 of the meetings were held at the local post office.  These are usually rural post offices with small lobbies, so many of the meetings have been held with patrons crowded together and standing up.

Not that the meetings have lasted very long.  There's not much to talk about.  The decision to reduce the hours was made almost a year ago, and what the new hours will be comes as an announcement, not a matter for discussion.  There’s no need for a lot of talk about the options because there aren’t any.  It’s either reduce the hours or close the post office.

[View larger map]

The meetings are really just an opportunity for the Postal Service spokesperson to drive home the point that the agency is losing $25 million a day and billions every year so it must make cuts in service like reducing the hours.  

The local newspaper dutifully repeats what the Postal Service has said.  In most articles, there’s also a quote or two from citizens saying they're concerned about how reducing the hours will hurt some members of the community but it's better than losing the post office altogether.  The headlines say that the post office has been “spared” or “saved" or "will stay open" — as if closing it were really a possibility, even though virtually none of the 13,000 POStPlan post offices will close.

When the Postal Service witness for POStPlan, Jeffrey Day, was questioned by the Postal Regulatory Commission for its advisory opinion on POStPlan, he testified that while post offices would be reviewed annually to see if they needed to be upgraded or downgraded based on their revenues and workload, the meetings would not be repeated because "community meetings are very expensive."  When asked how much the Postal Service had budgeted for the surveys and meetings, he said he "didn't have that number offhand," and he couldn't even say if it was in the millions of dollars.

One wonders how much money the Postal Service has spent on these seven thousand meetings (with another six thousand to go).  Whatever they cost, it was a waste of money, at least in terms of getting feedback from citizens.  The outcome never depended on surveys and meetings.  The decisions were made in postal headquarters long before an average American weighed in.

But that's not what the meetings are about.  They are a publicity strategy to make it seem that the Postal Service is “listening” to its customers.  (The page on the USPS website about the POStPlan meetings is titled "We're listening.")

Even more, the meetings serve as a staged public relations event designed to get a message out: The Postal Service is hemorrhaging  billions, and the public must endure cuts in service if the agency is to survive.  

The meetings go hand in hand with the Postmaster General's trip to Montana last May — a publicity tour to show he was "listening" to people in small towns who were concerned about their post office closing.  (At the time, the PMG had already decided not to close post offices and to do POStPlan instead.)

The Postal Service has been doing a great job controlling the message.  We hear constantly about how everyone is using the the Internet and email, how declining mail volumes are pushing the agency deeper and deeper in debt, and how management has no choice but to reduce costs by whatever means necessary — closing plants and slowing down the mail, ending Saturday delivery, shifting over to cluster boxes, cutting hours at the post office.  

We don't hear anything about the possibility that these service cutbacks are actually about keeping postal rates down for large business mailers and dismantling the country's postal system so that corporate interests can grab a bigger piece of the pie.  

When you consider how much it would have cost to place ads in thousands of community newspapers and on hundreds of local TV channels, the Postal Service has probably found a bargain.  Whatever they cost to hold, the POStPlan meetings have provided great free publicity.  They were a perfect way to control the message.  And that’s probably what postal management was thinking when it decided to hold them. 

(Photo credit: POStPlan meetings in Cambridge, Illinois and Bushland, Texas)

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