Post Office and Retail Postal Facility Closures: Overview and Issues for Congress

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[Excerpt] In common parlance, “post office” is used to refer to a wide variety of facilities operated by the United States Postal Service (USPS). In administrative practice, the USPS differentiates among several categories of postal facilities. Regarding one category of its facilities, the USPS announced in May 2009 that it was considering the closure of 3,105 of its 4,851 post office branches and stations. These facilities provide the public with postal services, such as stamp sales, post office boxes, and package shipping. Since the original announcement, the USPS has indicated that the number of possible closures may be more than 3,200. This report provides (1) information on this recent announcement; (2) historical data on the number of post offices and other retail postal facilities; (3) an explanation of the legal authorities relevant to retail postal facility closures; (4) a review of the retail postal facility closure processes, including data on public appeals of closures, and H.R. 658’s proposed alterations to the processes; and (5) a concluding discussion that suggests observations and possible issues for Congress. The USPS has cited financial duress as a reason for its proposed closure of up to 64% of its 4,851 post office branches and stations. According to the USPS, the post office branches and stations under consideration for closure are located in metropolitan areas. The USPS has not indicated whether any employees would lose their positions. Most postal employees are protected from layoffs by collective bargaining agreements. As of FY2008, the USPS had 36,065 retail postal facilities, including post offices, post office branches and stations, community post offices, and contract postal units. This is 16.3% fewer than existed in 1970 when the USPS was established as an independent establishment of the executive branch. The closure of 3,105 branches and stations would reduce the current number of retail postal facilities by 8.4%. By law, the USPS does not rely on appropriations to fund its operations. It must support itself through the sales of postal services. Congress has given the USPS considerable discretion to decide how many post offices to erect and where to place them. The USPS also is obliged to provide the public with adequate access to postal services. Both federal law and the USPS’s rules prescribe a post office closure process. The U.S. Postal Service must notify the affected public and hold a 60-day comment period prior to closing a post office. Should it decide to close a post office, the public has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC). Between FY1998 and FY2007, 25 of the approximately 676 post office closures were appealed to the PRC. The USPS uses an expedited version of this process to close post office branches, stations, and community post offices. On January 22, 2009, Representative Albio Sires introduced H.R. 658, which would require the USPS to employ the more lengthy post office closure process on all retail facility closures, and expand the current statutory public notification requirements. Federal law requires the USPS to arrange its delivery and service network to most efficiently serve the public. However, the proposed closures may raise a number of issues, including public participation in the closure process, the effects on postal workers, and the possible effects of closures on communities. Congress may wish to consider a variety of measures to address these possible issues. This report will be updated to reflect significant legislative action.

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United States Postal Service; closures; retail postal services; Congress; public policy


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