Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said the new plan is a response to negative public feedback as well as an effort to get the issue "off the table" politically. (File)
Under heavy pressure from Congress, the U.S. Postal Service is shelving plans to close up to 3,700 post offices and instead will offer $20,000 buyouts to 21,000 postmasters as a way to save money.
As a result, some 13,000 communities will be able to keep their local post offices, but with reduced customer service hours, USPS Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said at a news conference Wednesday. Affected rural post offices will see their public service hours reduced anywhere from two to six hours a day.
In many cases, the Postal Service will replace full-time employees with cheaper part-timers, she said.
"Any communities that want to retain a rural post office — we will work with them to do that," Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said at the same news conference. In all, the changes will save a half-billion dollars annually once fully implemented by fall 2014, the agency says.
The buyouts are being offered to some 21,000 career postmasters. The only exceptions are those that belong to the Postal Career Executive Service, whose members normally manage big-city post office operations.
Those wanting to sign up must do so by June 22 and agree to leave their jobs by the end of July. The Postal Service will pay the money in two $10,000 installments, one this December and the second in December 2013.
Postmasters who stay in offices affected by the cutback in service hours will be "downgraded" by a reduction in force in 2014, according to the Postal Service. Before then, however, they will have a chance to apply for other positions, the agency said. No postmaster in that category will be affected for two years, the National League of Postmasters said on http://www.postmasters.org/">its website.
The Postal Service, mired in a deep financial crisis, has almost 32,000 post offices, most of which lose money. The strategy unveiled Wednesday marks at least a temporary retreat from a plan announced last July to close the bulk of some 3,700 post offices — most of them in rural areas — that saw little business. Opposition from affected communities and lawmakers has been fierce; a bill recently passed by the Senate would bar the closing of rural post offices for one year.
Donahoe said the new plan is a response to negative public feedback as well as an effort to get the issue "off the table" politically and move ahead with a comprehensive legislative fix aimed at returning the Postal Service to profitability.
Whether the new approach will draw a more favorable reaction from Congress is unclear. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a leading opponent of rural post office closures, had no immediate comment. In a statement, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the sponsors of the postal legislation, said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the plan will both cut costs and preserve some postal services for rural communities. But Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif,, sponsor of a competing House bill, said the Postal Service needs to focus on consolidations in more populated areas that offer the greatest chance for savings.
Although the Postal Service last year said it would close thousands of postal facilities and processing plants, it later agreed to postpone any closings until after May 15. Some lawmakers have urged the Postal Service to hold off on any plant closures until Congress gives final approval to postal legislation. But Donahoe said the agency intends to proceed with at least some cutbacks in the next few months.
Financially, he said, "we're still in major trouble."