Dean Granholm, vice president of delivery and post office operations, addresses rule changes that might make it easier for the U.S. Postal Service to shutter post offices during a March 31 news briefing at the postal service's headquarters in Washington. (James J. Lee / Staff)
The U.S. Postal Service in June may pinpoint several thousand post offices, stations and branches as candidates for closure under proposed rules aimed at speeding up the closure process, a top executive said Thursday,
The proposed regulations, published in the Federal Register, aim to cut reviews of potential closures to about 4½ months, Dean Granholm, vice president for delivery and post office operations, told reporters at a news briefing. Reviews currently take up to 21 months.
The rules would also give postal managers more "triggers" to consider whether a particular facility warrants closing. While a prohibition on closing post offices solely because they lose money would remain in place, managers could consider such factors as insufficient customer demand, whether customers have other ways of obtaining postal products and services, and whether the facility has fewer than two hours of work a day. Currently, the Postal Service has a much more limited range of options.
The proposed regulations have a 30-day comment period. With a review of about 3,000 postal facilities already underway, the Postal Service plans to announce in June which facilities it will study for closure, Granholm said.
"We feel that these moves are necessary for us to stay viable," he said, declining to predict how many facilities might actually be closed.
The Postal Service operates about 28,000 post offices, along with 4,000 stations and branches that do not have a resident postmaster. As plummeting mail volume slams the agency with record losses, that sprawling retail network has shrunk far more slowly.
Almost two years ago, the Postal Service began studying the possibility of shuttering as many as 3,200 stations and branches. That list, which drew an outcry from the public and Congress, was ultimately winnowed to about 140, Granholm said. About 80 have closed so far, he said, with the rest to follow by September.
Even before the package of proposed changes was officially released, critics were objecting that it would disproportionately hurt rural communities.
"It scares me," Mark Strong, president of the National League of Postmasters, said Wednesday. "In most cases, when they shut down that post office, they're going to shut down that community."
But Granholm said the Postal Service is following its customers. Sales from self-service kiosks and other alternate outlets account for more than 35 percent of postal revenue today, he said, compared with 8 percent a decade ago.