• on Oct 13th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 15 comments

    People care a lot about their local post offices, at least if the number of news stories on the topic and the comments we receive on our blog and Audit Project pages are indications.

    For some, the neighborhood Post Office serves as everything from the source of a community’s name and identity, to a spot where neighbors can connect and keep track of each other. Of course the Post Office is also the place where folks drop off holiday goodies and care packages, or buy stamps and other mailing supplies. And rentable Post Office boxes create physical addresses for local entrepreneurs.

    So, it’s no surprise that when the Postal Service decides to relocate a Post Office – whether moving it to a less costly property or consolidating several facilities into one –communities have an opinion about it.

    The ubiquity of its Post Office network is one of the Postal Service’s most valuable assets. But, the Postal Service says more than one-third of postal retail purchases are now made somewhere other than a Post Office, including on usps.com. It’s therefore understandable that the Postal Service is making changes, such as instituting shorter hours of operation, encouraging local businesses to offer some postal services, or consolidating low-traffic facilities.

    The Postal Service recognizes that it matters to customers when their local Post Office is shuttered. And there are specific regulations and guidelines designed to give affected communities information about planned moves, and the right to appeal portions of those plans. But is the Postal Service following the letter and spirit of those regulations and guidelines? Our recent audit looked at the relocation process and we found it could be more transparent. The public may not always have the information it needs, when it needs it, to understand the implications of relocations and make meaningful comments on them.

    What about you? If you have experienced a Post Office relocation in your community, were you satisfied with how and when you were informed? What, if any, changes could be made to make Post Office relocations more transparent or otherwise improve the process? 

  • on Aug 18th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 163 comments

    It’s baaack.

    Network consolidation will return in January 2015, a year after going on hiatus. The U.S. Postal Service announced recently that it would resume consolidations, closing up to 82 mail processing facilities. This second phase of the network consolidations should be done prior to the 2015 fall mailing season.

    The Postal Service expects the changes to yield $750 million in annual savings and to affect about 15,000 employees. In 2012 and 2013, the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities, resulting in cost savings of about $865 million.

    Loyal readers of our blog will recall that the Postal Service put its network consolidation plans on hold in early 2014 while it reconsidered its proposed changes to service standards for First-Class Mail. (See our blog from earlier this year on the delay.) Phase two will affect the service standards for First-Class Mail and Periodicals as well, eliminating the overnight standard for most First-Class Mail. Periodicals service standards would range from 3 days to 9 days, versus the current 2 to 9 days.

    The Postal Service says eliminating excess capacity through consolidation is one of the few options it has to cut costs. Consolidation will also allow the Postal Service to establish a “low-cost, technology-centric delivery platform necessary to serve the mailing and shipping industry for decades to come.”

    Still, the planned consolidations are likely to rankle some. At least one postal union has already come out strongly against the plan, saying it will degrade service and lead to mail delays. It intends to vigorously fight the closures. On the other hand, industry has generally supported Postal Service efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, as long as service isn’t irreparably harmed.

    We welcome your thoughts. Should the Postal Service continue with consolidations given the decline in mail volume and the potential cost savings? Or should the Postal Service first explore ways to use the excess capacity to provide services that might yield additional revenue sources, such as warehousing or other logistics services? 

  • on Apr 28th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 11 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?

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