Brace for a brouhaha: The U.S. Postal Service is seeking more freedom to close post offices with a package of sure-to-be-controversial proposals coming out in Thursday’s Federal Register.
The half-dozen proposed rules changes will help the struggling mail carrier “responsibly address issues pertaining to declining mail volume, customer demand and revenue shortfalls,” USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We look forward to the 30-day comment period,” she added.
The proposals are already available online and postal officials have scheduled a Thursday media briefing to further explain the new approach. One can presume, however, that their overarching goal is to make it easier to prune a vast retail network that isn’t shrinking nearly as fast as as mail volume.
At present, for example, the Postal Service is barred from closing post offices solely to save money. Although the new proposal doesn’t appear to explicitly end that prohibition, it would allow postal officials to look at shuttering facilities suffering from “insufficient customer demand” or where communities have other ways of reasonably getting postal services.
Even before the proposed changes are officially public, however, resistance is already afoot. Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters, said Tuesday that his organization will be strongly opposed. Also upset is the Association of United States Postal Lessors, which represents landlords who rent space to the Postal Service.
If “this change is adopted, we can anticipate that nearly all of rural post offices will disappear in no time and a significant number of postal stations located in lower- income areas of cities and towns will also disappear rapidly,” Mario Principe, the association’s director of lessor affairs, said in a statement.
Particularly interesting to parse will be the reaction from Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are perhaps the biggest single roadblock to closing post offices, which are often cherished–albeit money-losing–community institutions. But prominent House Republicans are now insisting that the Postal Service get its finances in order, in part by clamping down on employee pay and benefits. Will lawmakers be similarly hard-nosed when it comes to politically valuable postal real estate?