Iowa’s U.S. Delegation
Pushes USPS to ‘Get Its Act Together’
(This article will appear in the July/August 2006 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)
The USPS Inspector General’s office has agreed to conduct an audit of the Postal Service’s Area Mail Processing study of the Sioux City (IA) Processing & Distribution Facility.
The audit of the western Iowa P&DF is at the request of the state’s U.S. senators (Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley) and Rep. Steve King (R). King made the announcement about the Inspector General’s audit plan on June 14, when he and the two senators met with the IG to discuss the report, which is expected to take months.
In contrast to the Postal Service’s reluctance to release information about its AMP study, King said, the IG’s office has agreed that its full audit will be made public.
“At least we’ll get a complete and independent review of what we think is a problematic proposal,” Grassley told the Sioux City Journal.
The AMP survey in Sioux City was among the first batch of studies begun last year. Early in the process, Harkin assailed the Postal Service for ignoring “major issues such as the costs the USPS plan will impose on local businesses and possible delays in mail service. It’s critical that the USPS hears from Siouxland residents how its proposed consolidation plans will impact their community.”
“We’re fighting against losing a 150-year tradition of having our own identity through the post office,” said Jim Price, president of APWU’s Sioux CityLocal. Price has noted that closing the P&DF would mean the reduction to part-time status or the displacement of nearly half of the facility’s 100 workers. Many would be asked to work in Sioux Falls, SD, about 80 miles away.
“I hope an independent investigation of the study will reveal to Sioux City officials and residents how this study was really conducted,” King said in a statement. “If the business case has not been fully examined, then a consolidation is clearly premature. I don’t want the Sioux City postmark to be lost over a plan that has been deemed ‘close enough for government work’ by Washington bureaucrats.”
Price was equally blunt: “They should just call off the study rather than make the Inspector General’s office spend more taxpayer money doing another study.”
The congressional trio had met with high-ranking postal officials in early May. “We’re still not getting the transparency we need from the Postal Service,” Harkin told members of the Sioux City media shortly after that meeting. “We need to know why they’re making the decisions they’re making.” Nearly a month later, in a letter to Postmaster General John Potter, Harkin asked that any realignment decision be delayed. “It’s clear that the USPS has failed to consider consolidation’s true costs and its impact on the community,” he said in a May 30 letter co-signed by Grassley and King. “That is why I strongly urge this decision be put on hold until the Postal Service can get its act together.”
Previously, Iowa’s Washington delegation had asked Potter to put the Sioux City and other AMP studies on hold while waiting for Congress to take action on pending postal reform legislation. The Senate bill includes a provision authored by Harkin that would require public input into postal realignment decisions.
“The [AMP study] was not conducted with the best interests of Siouxland mail customers in mind,” a Sioux CityJournal editorial said. “Throughout a process that has been far too secret, the USPS has demonstrated little interest in what local and area residents have to say, and has been anything but open, forthcoming, and responsive in offering information.”
Several other areas of the country in which AMP studies have been announced also have been the scene of spirited public protests, and congressional representatives from most areas where the studies are taking place are expressing their support for holding off on plans until more public input is accepted.
Other Areas, Other Voices
In Beaumont, TX, which is threatened with the loss of its postmark and dozens of jobs to as far away as Houston, some 90 miles west, an APWU picket of the Postal Service received a lot of local attention. “We then ran radio spots and a newspaper ad,” said Angela Walters , president of the Beaumont SCF Area Local, “and as a result of the two got a lot of community involvement.”
“The local citizens swamped the office of U.S. Rep. Ted Poe with calls and letters — so much so that he requested to meet with me,” Walters said. “He is against consolidating any of the Beaumont P&DC.” Poe was among 19 members of Congress whose constituents would be affected by USPS network realignment plans and who expressed concern about the program in a May 1 letter to U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker.
Among the U.S. representatives who signed the letter to Walker was Marion Berry, an Arkansas Democrat. Berry’s district includes the postal facility in Batesville, which was the subject of an AMP study that has been called to a halt. In its announcement that the study in Batesville was “on hold indefinitely,” the Postal Service said that it had determined that there were “other factors associated with the Post Office or the community that needed to be addressed.”
“We aren’t sure what ‘indefinitely’ means and we didn’t get any answers about what the ‘other factors’ are, but for now we’re still here,” said Debbie McKenzie, president of APWU’s Batesville Local. She told the Batesville Daily Guard that the efforts of local politicians and community leaders were instrumental in halting the AMP study.
In late May, the APWU was notified that proposed consolidations at five postal facilities — P&DFs in Utica, NY; Burlington, VT; Springfield, MA; and Portsmouth, NH; and at the Plattsburgh, NY, Post Office — were permanently halted because they present “no substantial opportunities to improve efficiency or service.”
But another AMP study in the Northeast is not on hold. Members of the North Jersey Area Local have responded to the study there by meeting with congressional representatives and with Newark mayoral candidate Cory Booker. Booker coasted to victory in early May with 72 percent of the vote and he immediately won over postal workers by meeting with a large local Chamber of Commerce and with New Jersey’s U.S. senators, Frank R. Lautenberg (D) and Robert Menendez (D).
The senators, as well as the Rep. Donald M. Payne, whose jurisdiction includes Newark, wrote letters to Postmaster General Potter that demanded more accountability on the proposal to relocate Newark’s mail processing activities.
“We respectfully request that a consolidation should not occur until it can be determined that no unreasonable hardships on employees will result from the plan,” the senators wrote. Payne said that his understanding was that the Government Accountability Office “has been asked to provide information to Congress about the criteria the USPS used to analyze and evaluate the proposed changes, and to address other questions about communication strategy and measurement of the effects of realignment, including costs incurred versus savings realized.”
In what can only be considered a jab, Payne hinted that the Postal Service has not exactly been forthcoming: “I look forward to receiving this information before any further action is taken.”
In Rockford, IL, meanwhile, more than 500 people showed up at a community meeting June 5 to voice their support for keeping that city’s mail-processing facility and postmark. Many were there at the urging of Rep. Dan Manzullo (R-IL), who asked that people come to “show the top postal officials in our nation that we are serious about keeping our mail operations in Rockford .” At the meeting, Manzullo moderated the public comment session that began after a presentation by postal officials. Business owners, postal workers, local government officials, and citizens almost unanimously expressed opposition to the USPS plans.
The latest effort by Harkin to get the USPS to at least delay its network realignment plans called for the development of a “rational methodology” for making decisions. The May 30 letter asked that a solid business analysis be conducted, and that the Inspector General review the methodology, analysis, and business case studies used to justify consolidation proposals.