Five Steps to Save America's Incredible Shrinking Post Office
In July 2011 the United States Postal Service (USPS) management announced it would rapidly close 3600 local post offices and eventually as many as 15,000. And shutter half the nation’s mail processing centers.
A frenzy of grassroots activity erupted as citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes a defining role in their communities. Only when Congress appeared ready to impose a six month moratorium on closures and consolidations that December did USPS management agree to a voluntarily moratorium of the same length.
That moratorium ended in May 2012. Rather than proceed with closings, management embraced a devilishly clever new strategy. Instead of closing 3600 it would slash the hours of 13,000 post offices. That could be accomplished very quickly because reduction in hours, unlike outright closures, requires little if any justification while appeals are very limited.
Germany circa 1940 would have envied the efficiency of the USPS’s blitzkrieg against itself and America’s rural communities. By November 2013, almost 8,000 post offices already have seen hours whacked.
As required USPS held community meetings but they went not to listen but to dictate. As the web site Save The Post Office, the go to source of information about the ongoing assault on the post office observes, “The decision to reduce the hours was made almost a year ago and what the new hours will be comes as an announcement, not a matter for discussion. There’s no need for a lot of talk about the options because there aren’t any.”
When communities ask the postal service management for the data upon which it made the decision they are invariably rebuffed. Postal management considers it none of their business.
A reduction in hours doesn’t generate the same level of outrage as a closure but its impact on a community may, even in the short run, be almost as negative. The building remains open but its value to the community is dramatically diminished. Hours may be cut in half. A part time inexperienced non-career employee replaces a full time experienced career postmaster.
At a meeting in Great Capacon, West Virginia small business owners talked about how the abundant knowledge of the current postmaster, Rick Dunn, helped them cut costs and improve service. One resident offered another measure of Dunn’s value, relating how he had called in a wellness check on a senior he hadn’t seen in a few days. It turned out the man needed medical attention. Dunn may have saved his life.
A reduction in hours may set up a slippery slope to full closure because the postal service reviews the workload and revenues of individual post offices annually. As one resident in Greenwood, Virginia reasonably inquired, “How in the world can our revenue increase if they’re reducing the hours that our window can perform retail sales?”
A Public Institution Begins to Act Like a Private Business
The wholesale reduction in hours is only the latest attack in the war against the post office as a public institution The war began in 1970 when the United States Post Office Department was transferred out of government and became the United States Postal Service, an independent quasi public corporation, a hybrid invested by law with a public purpose but expected to act like a business. To spur business-like thinking, Congress eliminated almost all taxpayer subsidies.
Almost immediately the private began to take precedence over the public. The postal service management tried to close thousands of local post offices. In the mid 1970s Congress expressed its disapproval by imposing its first moratorium.