The U.S. Postal Service signaled today that it will suspend mail processing plant closures starting Aug. 31 “to avoid any adverse impact on the November election.” The freeze will last until early next year, according to a news release, and comes after some state election officials had reacted with alarm to the possible disruption to vote-by-mail balloting.
But today’s announcement also raises the odds that the planned downsizing (in which 223 of 461 processing plants would ultimately be closed or consolidated for a predicted savings of more than $2 billion annually) will be shelved for the rest of this year.
Here’s why: USPS leaders have already agreed to hold off on any closings until May 15. That self-imposed moratorium came in response to congressional pressure. Now, some lawmakers are lobbying for an additional postponement until the Postal Regulatory Commission issues an advisory opinion.
The commission won’t do so until late July at the earliest, according to its schedule for hearing the case. If Postal Service officials agree to that added delay (and Congress may not give them much choice), it’s hard to imagine that they’ll seek to rush through any facility closings during what could be just a month-long window between late July and Aug. 31.
Admittedly, FedLine is speculating. But in an election year, observers of all stripes (i.e., business mailers as well as former executives and labor reps) have doubted that the Postal Service has any chance of proceeding with a restructuring aimed at cutting some 35,000 jobs.
In today’s announcement, the Postal Service acknowledged that the current moratorium means that “most closures or consolidations would have to start” after May 15 and be completed by the end of August.
Asked how many plants would be shuttered in that 3-1/2-month period, “it’s hard to predict a specific number,” USPS spokeswoman Susan McGowan told FedLine. Each closure will be handled individually, McGowan said in an email, adding that “there’s no way to know how many will be completed by August.”
But the latest freeze apparently has been in the works for some time. More than a month ago, a USPS representative had told the National Association of Secretaries of State essentially what was publicly released today, said Kay Stimson, a spokeswoman for the association. The plant closures, which are tied to a proposed weakening in first-class mail delivery standards, had stoked bi-partisan concern among state elections officials.
“Drastic changes in how mail is processed could have unintended consequences, specifically when it comes to how Ohio voters’ absentee ballots are handled,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said last month.
Not to worry, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said today. “Mail is an increasingly important part of the U.S. election process and we are confident in the dependable and timely delivery of election-related mail.”