Commission Sharply Criticizes
USPS Station Closure Plans
APWU Web News Article 020-2010, March 11, 2010
Echoing recommendations made by the APWU, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) said March 10 that the Postal Service should give residents more notice when it plans to close stations or branches, and should improve opportunities for public comment on its plans.
The USPS also should implement uniform procedures for closing or consolidating various types of retail facilities (such as post offices, stations and branches), and should enhance its financial analysis of station and branch operations, the commission found.
“This opinion reiterates many of the criticisms the APWU has made about the Postal Service’s plans to close stations and branches,” said APWU President William Burrus. “We believe the closures would result in sharply reduced service to the American people,” he said.
“We also have been concerned about the lack of opportunity for public input, the Postal Service’s exaggerated claims of savings from station closings, and management’s inconsistency in evaluating targets,” the union president said.
In the advisory opinion [PDF], the PRC acknowledged the Postal Service’s authority to adjust its retail network, but encouraged the USPS to make improvements in its procedures. “I urge the Postal Service to take our recommendations to heart and implement them quickly in order to respond to public concerns and build goodwill,” said Commission Chairman Ruth Y. Goldway.
Public Sees No Difference
Currently, residents served by stations and branches “receive limited notice and only 10 days to provide comments,” the panel wrote. “Further, public comments often are not sought until after the initial decision to close the facility has already been made.
“The Commission finds that the current 10 days advance customer notice is insufficient and limits opportunities for community consultation.” The Postal Service should establish a notice and comment period that provides an adequate opportunity for public input before an initial decision to close a facility is made, the commission said.
The USPS should use the same procedures when it considers closing stations and branches as those used for post offices, the commission found. “The Postal Service’s nomenclature differentiates among stations, branches and post offices,” Goldway said in a press statement [PDF]. “But customers do not recognize any difference. They expect and deserve the same public notice, opportunity for comment and rights of appeal if and when postal facilities they depend on may be closed.”
The commission said it would entertain appeals and may set aside Postal Service decisions to close offices if the Postal Service fails to adhere to required procedures.
Inconsistent Financial Analyses
The commission also urged the USPS to develop a better methodology for analyzing savings from offices that are closed. “Inconsistent financial and operational analyses impair evaluations of facility closures and consolidations,” the PRC wrote. “The Commission finds that standardized review procedures should be developed and consistently applied nationwide to ensure adequate and efficient service levels.” The current methodology is likely to overestimate savings and underestimate the costs of closing or consolidating a station or branch, the commission said.
The PRC’s recommendations were issued in response to a July 2, 2009, request by the Postal Service, which must seek an advisory opinion if its proposed actions would constitute a nationwide change in service levels. The USPS asked the PRC to comment on its Stations and Branch Initiative, which reviewed more than 3,000 offices nationwide for possible closure.
The PRC proceedings featured testimony submitted on behalf of the APWU by union steward Michael T. Barrett and economist Anita B. Morrison. Barrett asserted that the USPS uses incomplete data to support its conclusions, and overlooks information that would offer a more accurate indication of cost savings and the impact of closures on nearby stations and branches. Morrison testified about the severe impact closures would have on low-income neighborhoods where computer use is relatively low and where residents are especially dependent on public transportation.
As of February 2010, only 162 stations and branches from the original list remain under consideration for closure. “However,” the commission noted in a press statement, “the Postal Service has indicated that this program will be applied to additional retail facilities in the coming months.”