PRC Slams USPS Closure Plans

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(This article first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.

Echoing recommendations made by the APWU, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) sharply criticized USPS plans for closing stations and branches in an “advisory opinion” issued March 10. 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 PRC said.

The commission also urged management to implement uniform procedures for closing various types of retail facilities and to enhance its financial analysis of stations.

“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.”

The PRC acknowledged the Postal Service’s authority to close stations and branches in order to adjust its retail network, but encouraged the agency to improve its closing procedures.

Limited Notice, Poor Methodology

The commission’s criticism reiterates concerns that the union has had for years: Currently, residents served by stations and branches scheduled for closure “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 PRC urged the Postal Service to establish a notice-and-comment period that gives customers, employees, and other stakeholders an adequate opportunity for public input before a final decision is made. The commission said it would entertain appeals and would consider setting aside decisions to close offices if the USPS fails to adhere to required procedures.

The commission also encouraged the USPS to develop better methodology for calculating savings from locations no longer in service or from those slated for closure. The panel criticized the current practice, which tends to overestimate savings and underestimate the cost of closure or consolidation. The PRC recommended that the USPS develop and consistently apply “standardized review procedures…to ensure adequate and efficient service levels.”

Burrus praised the findings, saying the APWU has “also been concerned about the lack of public input, the Postal Service’s exaggerated claims of savings from station closings, and management’s inconsistency in evaluating targets.” The advisory opinion was issued in response to a July 2009 request by the Postal Service for review of its Stations and Branch Initiative, which initially listed over 3,000 post offices nationwide under consideration for closure. The USPS must seek an advisory opinion for proposed actions that would constitute a nationwide change in service levels.

“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.

Continuing the Fight

As of February, 162 of the original 3,000 listed stations and branches remained under consideration for closure, but the PRC noted in a press statement that “the Postal Service has indicated that this program will be applied to additional retail facilities in the coming months.” The union will continue the fight against station and branch closures and consolidations.

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