• on Apr 28th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 10 comments

    Given the U.S. Postal Service’s significant role in the nation’s founding, it’s probably not surprising that it owns a number of historic properties. But when the historic institution needs to modernize and optimize its network of postal facilities, how should it handle its historic properties? This has proved an especially volatile question for those citizens most directly affected. A property is eligible for historic status if it meets the National Register criteria, which involve the property’s age, integrity, and significance. That doesn’t mean the property can never be sold or renovated, just that the Postal Service must follow certain regulations to consider the effects of its actions and engage in a consultative process to resolve negative impacts. Complicating the matter, the Postal Service can't readily determine how many of the 9,000 properties it owns (in its portfolio of 32,000 properties managed) are historic. It sold 22 historic properties between October 2010 and June 2013. As of last summer, it had another 25 historic properties up for sale and was considering selling another 28.

    The sale or attempted sale of these properties has caused a firestorm of protest and resistance in some communities. Historic properties evoke strong emotions because the building or structure touches people in many ways. They are often seen as a connection with our past and a lesson for future generations. Combine these passions with the attachment that many people have to their local post offices, and it’s easy to see why the sale of historic post offices can be a lightning rod. Another factor is that some of these post offices were built during President Roosevelt’s New Deal and are decorated with murals and other artwork of the era. Citizens worry that they will lose access to the works of art inside.

    The Postal Service is an institution in a time of change. It faces significant financial challenges as it attempts to right-size its network so it has the optimal number of facilities for its current mail volume – an amount that has declined since 2007. Occasionally, it will dispose of a historic property as part of its network optimization goals. Our recent audit report reviewed the Postal Service’s management of the preservation and disposal of historic properties and we found numerous areas for improvement. Notably, the Postal Service did not know how many historic properties it owned or what it cost to preserve them. Also, it did not collaborate with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to improve its preservation regulations compliance.

    The Postal Service finds itself with competing obligations: Operating a less-expensive network to improve its financial footing versus the preservation of culture, history, and art. What do you think is the best solution? If it is to preserve these buildings, how should they be paid for?

  • on Jun 18th, 2012 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 10 comments
    Americans are passionate about their post offices as they made clear when the Postal Service unveiled its original plan to close 3,700 post offices, most of them in rural areas. Last month, the Postal Service announced a new plan to keep post offices opened but reduce the operating hours at 13,000 locations. These low-activity post offices would be open only 2 to 6 hours a day, which the Postal Service says would save it $500 million a year. The Postal Service also plans to upgrade about 4,500 current part-time Post Offices to 8 hours of daily window service. Post offices are viewed by many as a gathering place for citizens and central to a community’s social and cultural identity. Some argue the Post Office is not just a profit-based retail establishment; it is part of the Postal Service’s larger public service mission. Perhaps the Postal Service should consider expanding the services it offers at post offices before it closes them. But others say the Postal Service needs to reduce its operating costs by right-sizing its retail network to match the new reality of a changing communications market. Nearly 80 percent of the 32,000 Post Offices operate at a loss. About 12,000 post offices average daily revenues of less than $68 per day, and one third of those Post Offices have average daily revenues of less than $25 per day. Closing low-activity post offices would help the cash-strapped Postal Service save money. What do you think about the Postal Service’s Post Office Structure Plan, or POStPlan? Does it make sense to reduce the hours at low-activity post offices or should the Postal Service close them altogether? Or is there a better retail plan that considers a more targeted approach, such as offering new services in Post Offices and/or extending the hours at some post offices while closing others?
  • on Apr 23rd, 2012 in Post Offices & Retail Network, Pricing & Rates | 9 comments
    Generally, most consumers know the rates for mailing a 1-ounce First-Class® letter. However, many don’t know the prices of other postal service offerings, such as certification, insurance, or return receipt. In some instances, some of these services must be bundled with the mailing type. Posting the rates for the more commonly used services in a convenient spot in the Post Offices would let customers know approximately how much services cost, allowing them to make informed decisions. For example, displaying rates for the first several ounce increments of First-Class mail, as well as the most commonly used rates for Express Mail and Priority Mail along with the rates for certification, insurance, and return receipt, would help mailers calculate the total purchase price. Easy access to this information would allow mailers to effortlessly make price comparisons with other providers and clearly reveal the true value the Postal Service provides to consumers. What do you think? How can the Postal Service present prices in the most effective way?

    This blog is hosted by the Financial Reporting directorate.

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