On September 19, Postmaster General Donahoe testified to the Senate Homeland Security Committee about the state of the Postal Service and the dire need for legislation. During his testimony, the PMG made a pledge not to close post offices or processing plants while Congress debated postal reform. It’s not a pledge the PMG is likely to keep. In fact, he was already breaking it even as he made it.
The PMG’s promise about not closing facilities occurred during an exchange with Montana Senator Jon Tester. (It occurs at 1:16:55 in the video. The exchange was also reported on KPAX News.) Here’s how it went:
Senator Tester: Is there going to be further consolidation of mail processing facilities or post offices while we're doing this legislation and debate in committee?
PMG Donahoe: No [very quiet, barely audible]. The bill as it's written puts a two-year freeze on mail processing facilities. We have some scheduled for 2014. We would not advance any of those things to try to get under the wire. From a post office perspective, when I visited Montana last year, people told us, “Keep our offices open, keep our local identity. If you have to change window time, we understand that but give us access to mail.” And we've done that.
Senator Tester: Fair. So what you're saying is there wouldn't be any post office, mail processing centers closed while we're debating this bill before it becomes law?
PMG Donahoe: [Interjects “No, No” while Tester is speaking, then says:] Nope, we've done what we needed to do for this year, and if any further changes require service standard changes we will not do that.
If there was any ambiguity in the Postmaster General’s pledge not to close post offices and facilities, consider this exchange a little later in the hearing (at 1:24:27). The PMG is responding to a question from Senator Heitkamp of North Dakota, who had been asking about opportunities for digital innovation.
Senator Heitkamp: I only have a few more seconds here. I do want to point out that if you close every rural post office in North Dakota, you won't have an opportunity [for digital innovation].
PMG Donahoe (interrupting): There's no proposal to close any post offices. As a matter of fact, in your state we are expanding some post offices, Williston and a few others, because of the oil boom. We're responding to that and there's no interest in closing post offices — you've never heard me say that. We've made changes in the POStPlan that helps us in the bottom line perspective, but it gives customers what they're asking for — access to post offices and rural town identity.
Mr. Donahoe’s pledge not to close post offices did not go unnoticed. Senator Tester’s website immediately featured a press release entitled, “Tester Secures Major Concession From Top Postal Service Official.” It begins like this:
“Senator Jon Tester, the nation's number one defender of reliable mail service in rural America, today secured a major victory for Montana's rural mail customers. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe pledged to Tester that the Postal Service would not close any more post offices or mail processing facilities while Congress debates postal reform legislation.”
It should be pretty clear then that the Postmaster General pledged not to close post offices while Congress debates reform. Unfortunately, that pledge was being broken virtually as the PMG was making it. The Postal Service is busy closing post offices.
Here are just a few examples of closures and pending closures, from the days before and after the PMG’s testimony. Considering that the debate on postal reform has been going on for two years now and will probably drag on for many more months, expect this list to keep on growing.
1. The post office in Aripeka, Florida, closed on Friday, September 13. The Postal Service said the office had to be suspended because of a lease issue. The elderly landlady refused to sign a stack of papers to renew the lease, even though she is a long-time advocate for the post office — her grandfather was the town’s postmaster back in the 1920s.
2. The contract post office in Viburnum, Missouri, closed on Saturday, September 14. Now 300 box holders must travel over 25 miles to the next nearest post office in Steelville. There’s no rural delivery in Viburnum, so that means everyone has to make that trip to get the mail.
3. The East Austin Station in Austin, Texas, closed on Monday, September 16. Retail services were moved to a trailer; it’s possible, though not certain, that the post office will reopen in its current location after the new owner converts the building into a mixed-use building with two restaurants.
4. The historic post office in Stamford, Connecticut, closed on Friday, September 20, the day after the PMG told Senator Tester no post offices would be closing. The plan was to relocate retail services to a new building, but the Postal Service has been unable to find one — for three years.
5. The Highway Station post office in Bullhead City, Arizona will close on November 1. The public meeting was held in 2011, and then the discontinuance was put on hold. Then this past summer, the Postal Service picked up where it left off.
6. The post office in Sun Valley, Nevada, just outside Reno, is set to close later this fall. Residents have until September 29 to submit comments. Nevada Senator Dean Heller has written the PMG criticizing the Postal Service concerning the notification process and the potential impact of a closure on consumers and businesses.
7. The Ewa Station post office in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, may close soon. The Postal Service held a meeting on Friday, September 20. The office is only open two hours a day, but it has a lot of devoted customers who are fighting to keep it open.
8. The carrier annex in Novi, Michigan, will be closing sometime soon. Though no date has been set, a USPS spokesperson says, “There’s a possibility it could be this year, but it depends on how soon things get done and move along.”
9. The Postal Service will be closing the contract postal unit at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. Starting in the spring semester, students will have to go to the post offices in Edwardsville or Glen Carbon to do postal business, which won’t be easy for those without a car.
10. The post office in Surprise, Arizona is being studied for closure, disturbing news for residents, who went through this once before, back in 2011, when the post office was on the RAOI list of 3,700 post offices marked for closure.
11. The post office in New Canaan, Connecticut, is closing sometime between now and January. The Postal Service has not found a new location yet, but the landlord has already signed a lease with a new tenant. Written comments may be submitted until tomorrow, September 25.
12. Two San Diego post offices may close soon. On September 26, there will be a meeting to discuss the possible closure of the Escondido Boulevard, and postal officials say they may also close the post office at Westfield Mission Valley mall in San Diego. The leases expired recently at both facilities.
13. The historic post office in Redlands, California, is being reviewed for discontinuance. Written comments are due by November 6. At the public meeting, the Postal Service was given a petition with 3,000 signatures.
14. The Franklin Station post office in Somerset County, New Jersey, is closing. A discontinuance study was done in 2011, but put on hold when the Postal Service declared a moratorium on closures. Then this summer, the community was told the office would be closing after all. An appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission was rejected because it was filed one day after the deadline.
15. The post office in Fernandina Beach, Florida, is closing, based on a discontinuance study begun in 2011. The closing date would have been mid October, but the case is now under appeal with the PRC, so the closure may be postponed until December, unless the Commission remands the final determination.
16. The Glenoaks Station post office in Burbank, California, may close soon. The Postal Service began the discontinuance process in 2011 and then resumed it this summer. An appeal was filed with the PRC, and the Postal Service filed a motion to dismiss back on July 15. The Commission has yet to rule on the motion.
(Photo credits: PMG Donahoe testifying; post offices in Aripeka, FL; East Austin, TX; Stamford, CT; Highway Station, Bullhead City, AZ; Sun Valley, NV; Ewa Beach, HI.; Novi, MI; Surprise, AZ; New Canaan, CT; Escondino Blvd., San Diego, CA; Redlands, CA; Franklin Station, Somerset County, NJ; Fernandina Beach, FL; Glenoaks Station, Burbank, CA.