Facing opposition stretching from Capitol Hill to rural communities, the Postal Service has put off a key part of its plan to cut costs, even as it continues to lose billions of dollars a year.
USPS will postpone until 2016 nearly all processing facility consolidations. Approximately 70 facilities nationwide are affected, according to agency spokeswoman Sue Brennan.
Brennan said the agency based its decision on operational considerations.
It “was made to ensure that the Postal Service will continue to provide prompt, reliable and predictable service consistent with the published service standards,” she said. “The Postal Service will continue to implement network efficiencies and pursue service performance improvements as it has always done.”
Lawmakers representing rural areas cheered the Postal Service’s decision, while calling for studies that could further delay network changes.
“Earlier this month, I led a meeting with Postmaster General (Megan) Brennan and a bipartisan group of Senators from rural states — the first time such a meeting happened. We pressed her about the harmful effects mail processing center closures will have across the country, particularly on rural communities,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). “Hopefully, the Postal Service is now using this time to fully assess those impacts, and I’ll keep pressing it to seek solutions that don’t reduce mail service or hurt rural businesses and individuals.”
The Postal Service has repeatedly asked Congress to consider legislation that could help the agency trim its costs while preserving service to remote areas. The recent announcement would give lawmakers more time to do that, said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
“Today’s news is a step in the right direction and I hope deferring further processing plant closures remains permanent because maintaining the standard of delivery depends on it,” he said.
Montana had nine processing plants before 2011. Today the state has three, according to his office.
Heitkamp and Tester sent a letter today to the Postal Regulatory Commission. They requested that the independent body do regular studies of mail service in rural areas. The Postal Service is not adequately monitoring timeliness or accuracy of its work in those regions, they said.
“We firmly believe that the continued closure and consolidation of mail processing plants across the country hinders letter carriers’ ability to ensure timely delivery and diminishes the Postal Service’s competitiveness and relevancy in a twenty-first century business environment,” the senators wrote.
The senators participated earlier this month in a roundtable discussion about the impact of the Postal Service’s reorganization. Representatives of industries that depend on the mail complained about a decline in service that would grow worse if USPS continued to consolidate facilities, as it has done since 2011.
“It has created enormous complaints from our subscribers. We’re very fearful of what we will encounter if the 2015 closures proceed,” said Tonda Rush, CEO of the National Newspaper Association. “The network is everything to us. Our businesses are suffering and the communities are suffering.”
The agency’s cost-cutting plan called for transferring equipment and operations from 82 mail-processing plants to nearby facilities this year, causing delays in the delivery of first-class mail. If completed, up to 15,000 employees would have been affected. Twelve of those plants already have gone through the process, Brennan said.
She described the plan as an effort “to balance mail processing infrastructure costs against current and anticipated mail volumes and successfully right-size the postal processing network.”