How to Save the United States Postal Service

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How can we truly save the United States Postal Service?

Save the Post Office

First, encourage Congress to reverse the manufactured crisis caused by the 2006 Orwellian Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) which forced USPS to prepay its health related pensions 75 years in advance in 10 short years beginning in 2007. Since 2007 USPS has had to pay $5 billion or more dollars every year for health pensions of people who may not even have been born yet. This is something no government or corporate entity has every had to do.

Second, tell Congress to expand services at our local post offices. The Postal Service is a service, not a business. It is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is wrong to cut Saturday service which could affect 70,000 jobs and harm small businesses that would have to pay contractors higher rates than USPS to get mailing services.

Sheldon Garon, Nissan Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University, wrote an article at CNN advocating, “A savings account at the post office”.

According to Garon, most countries in Europe and East Asia allow people to open savings accounts in their post office. In the United States, there were postal savings accounts from 1911 to 1966.

Garon stated:

“To avoid competing with banks for larger depositors, postal savings accounts are capped at an amount that serves families of modest means.”

In addition, Garon claims that the savings accounts at post offices throughout the world typically “carry no fees and require no minimum balance or a low one.” This would help many Americans who currently have no bank because of high fees and low balances. They could open much needed savings accounts. Currently, many low income Americans use expensive check cashing companies that charge high fees.

Congress Must Act to Give USPS Flexibility to Make More Revenue

Passing legislation to allow USPS to offer postal banking would bring more people into the post office and would help Americans increase their savings. According to Garon, “one-fourth of low-income Americans are “unbanked.” They have no savings or checking accounts.”

The FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households states:

“8.2 percent of US households are unbanked. This represents 1 in 12 households or nearly 10 million in total.”

Third, Let’s protect and preserve our historic post offices. Especially those built during the New Deal era that contain one of a kind beautiful art murals and sculptures reflecting the communities they serve. Each post office is the heart of its community. It is wrong that Postmaster General Donahoe is selling off our national treasures, relocating post offices from the centers of towns to the outskirts making it harder for people to use their post offices. Stop the sell-off of our national treasures and preserve our historic buildings for present and future generations.

There are creative solutions to save USPS which is our 2nd largest employer in the United States. It is in each citizen’s interest to preserve the United States Postal Service which is  older than the United States of America. Our first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, was appointed on  July 26, 1775 by the Continental Congress. Let President Obama know we must keep universal service and six-day delivery of our mail!

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Ralph Nader Says Postmaster General Donahoe Should Resign

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U.S. Post Office, Miles City by dave_mcmt on flickr cc

U.S. Post Office, Miles City by dave_mcmt on flickr cc

Is it Time for Postmaster General Donahoe to Resign?

Ralph Nader wrote an open letter to Postmaster General Donahoe urging him to resign. In Nader’s letter he outlines how the Postmaster General Donahoe who came up through the ranks of the United States Postal Service (USPS) has consistently approached saving the Postal Service by proposals to slow service, close and sell post offices and cut thousands of jobs.

Nader thinks the Postmaster General Donahoe needs to demonstrate creative problem solving skills to save the postal service instead of waging a campaign to close over 3700 post offices and 252 processing centers. Why isn’t Donahoe listening to Senator Jay Rockefeller or Senator Bernie Sanders who offer proposals to expand services at post offices that would create needed additional revenue? Donahoe barely mentions such recommendations when speaking about how to solve the USPS fiscal problems. Instead he harps on how the internet is destroying first class mail.

How Should U.S. Postal Service’s Financial Problems Be Fixed?

Congressman DeFazio on Postmaster General Decision to Close Thousands of Post Offices and Processing Centers Nationwide

Nader writes in his letter regarding the current negative financial effects of “draconion requirements of USPS to prepay retiree health benefits” 75 years in advance in only 10 years based on the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) and other pension plan overpayments through the years:

“Removing the devastating fiscal effect of these prepayments would take care of 80 percent of the postal service’s deficit. Moreover, the federal government already owes the postal service, according to the U.S. Postal Service’s Inspector General, over $80 billion dollars in overpayments the USPS has made to the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employees Retirement System. You need to recover these overpayments. Yet while you have infrequently mentioned these strangleholds, that is not what you are known for in your direction of this historic institution.”

Nader points out that the savings from closing all the rural post offices is so small, $200 million/year, it isn’t worth the havoc it would wreck on “millions of rural Americans already strip-mined of other essential services.” Closing post offices would force Americans to spend more money on gas to travel longer distances to get to another post office.

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse by Paul Lowry on flickr cc

U.S. Post Office and Courthouse by Paul Lowry on flickr cc

There are other better ways to save the Postal Service and to get your message across Mr. Postmaster General.

Does Postmaster General Donahoe really want to save the postal service or is he just helping others behind the scenes achieve a long sought goal of privatizing the postal service for their own financial reward and efforts to weaken multiple postal unions? Is it a lack of creativity in doing more than close and sell post offices, cut jobs and slow mail delivery service or something else?

Nader explains the possible reasons for ideological gridlock against a truly thriving United States Postal Service:

“There is, in Washington, D.C., a combination of relentless ideological opposition to the USPS’s very existence as a public institution joined by thoughtless upper-income pundits and editorial writers who really do not use the postal service as they clutch their e-mail and text-messaging gadgets. They are both remote from the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the postal service in tangible and intangible ways that these deprecators could rarely understand or imagine. There are reporters, however, who have written compelling features from the field on what would happen were a rural post office closed to the people (many of them elderly) living there.”

Here is an OpEd piece by Bob Sloan on the Voters Legislative Transparency Project blog that outlines the behind the scenes role that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) heavily funded by the billioniare Koch brothers has played in placing policy papers on privatizing the postal service and getting rid of unionized workers.

Sloan says in his article:

“ALEC has pushed for privatizing the USPS and has used the services of RW think tanks such as Reason Foundation, CATO, Econ Journal Watch and National Taxpayers Union to contribute their support for this privatization agenda against the USPS.”

It’s a formula similar to the template legislation we’ve seen recently since 2010 around the country in mainly Republican controlled legislatures for voter ID laws to make it more difficult for people to have legal access to the polls hiding behind the basically non-existent threat of “voter fraud”. Or, template legislation to get rid of public unions by eliminating collective bargaining rights of teachers and other employees.

The Postmaster General’s nearly $400,000 compensation package is almost equal to that of the President of the United States. Nader asks Donahoe in his letter how he can cut so many workers jobs and not take a pay cut for himself and his top executives at the same time. Top USPS executives have a base pay over $200,000, higher than many cabinet level secretaries.

Nader suggests the creation of a Post Office Consumer Action Group (POCAG) which would be a non-profit group dedicated to representing the interests of all postal consumers. He said consumers could join by paying a small amount of dues which would support POCAG. The goal of the organization would be to encourage consumers to have input into the postal service’s decisions about how to best serve its customers, including the residential customer, not just the large mailers who already have input into the postal service decisions.

Finally, Mr. Nader urged Mr. Donahoe to go to the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C., a few blocks from the PMG’s office, to reflect on how other Postal Service leaders in prior centuries overcame tremendous hurdles to save the postal service and serve Americans–even delivering eggs–in the farm-to-table postal initiative. Nader claims “the internet challenge, if the USPS were to participate and provide services, is small compared to the mountains that the earlier postal service had to climb.”

The internet can be a good thing too.

How come Postmaster General Donahoe fails to highlight that “parcels sent by both consumers/businesses to increase by 40%” by 2020  according to the Report prepared by the USPS Office of Inspector General, Number: RARC-WP-11-002, page 8 in Table 2: Mail Volume Forecasts in 2020? Also, it is cheaper to send packages by USPS than other commercial mailers like Fedex and UPS so why isn’t PMG Donahoe focusing on this growing revenue stream in part due to internet buying?

President Obama Must Step Up to Save the USPS

Instead of rubber-stamping Postmaster General Donahoe’s recommendations to go from 6 days to 5 days delivery and to cut mail standards as well as close thousands of post offices, President Obama needs to recognize and help save the U.S. Postal Service, especially historic post offices that are a living record of history and that are important cultural icons within their communities.

What is the Best Role for the U.S. Postal Service?

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One of my favorite sources of news about the post office is the blog http://www.savethepostoffice.com. I urge you to also bookmark this wonderful news source about all things related to the ongoing saga about the real story of the postal service.

The mainstream media is just beginning to finally write about some issues beyond talking points of folks like Darrell Issa and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. However, even though Americans in every single U.S. city affected by potential post office closures or processing centers emphatically say absolutely NO, the media is only partially covering the story and much news is only in local news.

The fact is that every single community told their post office will be closed, “relocated” or “consolidated” has repeatedly fought to save their post office. The people in each community are unhappy about the potential negative effects economically, socially, and on the entire well-being of the community.

It’s Time to Stop Forcing USPS to “Act Like a Business”

Why is the U.S. Postal Service forced to “act like a business?” As a result the top executives of USPS claim their high salaries and bonuses which exceed the Vice President’s salary and Cabinet Level Secretaries are warranted because they are supposed to be comparable to a “business model.”

Here is a recent list of USPS high Executive salaries. However, as the Save The Post Office Blog points our here, the list does not include the bonuses which for some folks could be over $25,000/year or more. Here is a letter from Congresswoman Hochul to the Chairman of the USPS Board of Governors regarding the unusually out of touch high salaries of the USPS executives.

The Executive Team seems to pride itself on creating “efficiencies” at the same time they are requesting that the Postal Regulatory Commission not reveal a study they conducted that shows potential negative revenue impacts of the combined strategies they have to cut costs like:

  1. Closing and selling off over 3600 post offices, many historic in nature with important historic murals and art
  2. Closing and selling off over 252 processing plants which would put tremendous pressure on the people processing mail in remaining plants
  3. Potentially slowing First Class mail from overnight delivery to two to three days.
  4. Potentially cutting back mail delivery from 6 to 5 days.
  5. Potentially cutting or eliminating through attrition and other means over 100,000 to 220,000 jobs
Congressman Gerald Connelly filed a brief recently according to this article on Save The Post Office requesting that the PRC release this important study.
Connelly’s brief requesting the USPS release its study of the consequences of its proposals to close post offices, processing centers, slow mail, states:

In its submission to keep revenue impact information secret, the Postal Service claims that releasing revenue projections would provide an advantage to its competitors. I am concerned that it is the Postal Service’s proposal itself that will force customers to take their business to private competitors. The Postal Service is proposing sweeping reductions in service standards, processing facilities, and Post Offices. Congress and the public have a right to understand the aggregate impact of those decisions on Postal Service revenue. The Postal Service has proposed specific facility closures on the premise that such actions will save money. If it actually would result in greater revenue losses than savings, then both Congress and the public should have access to that information. Such information is relevant because multiple Members of Congress have petitioned the Postal Service to delay or stop facility closures and because the public is participating in a statutorily-protected public input process on this proposal through the Postal Regulatory Commission. Both aggregate and regional revenue data could have direct bearing on Members’ decision with respect to postal legislation and on citizens’ comments with respect to proposed facility closures, which is why that revenue data should be made public. While the Postal Service’s submission expresses concern about competition, it is precisely because of my concern that the Postal Service’s own downsizing proposals will divert mail to competitors and harm the Postal Service financially that I am filing to make revenue information public.

Conclusion

Based on the arguments submitted above, I am requesting that the Commission make public the Postal Service’s market research information file as Library Reference, USPS-LR-N2012-IINPI4 and NPI.

Why is USPS hiding important potential negative revenue facts from Americans at the same time it claims it is trying to save itself through its drastic cuts? The reality is that the combined plans could destroy the post office and have disastrous domino effects on local, regional, national and possible international businesses that use the U.S. postal service. In addition, USPS could potentially lose many customers, both individuals and businesses, due to slower mail delivery and making it harder for people to gain access to a postal facility due to closures and “relocations.”
The U. S. Postal Service is More than a Business

Professor Steve Hutkins states in “Bad News Comes in Threes: How Congress, Industry and Management Have Made a Mess Out of Things,”:

The idea of the Postal Service as an essential national infrastructure that serves the American people has been seriously undermined. This democratic vision has been replaced by the view that the Postal Service is merely another player in the mailing industry, a player whose primary purpose is to facilitate the business model and increase the profits of commercial marketers and mailers.

It is inappropriate that USPS hides behind having to “act like a business” in order to suppress its study on the combined effects of its policies and strategic plans which would gut the infrastructure of the U.S. Postal Service. Already the U.S. Postal Service is doing everything it can to cut the public out of appeals regarding historic brick and mortar post offices like those in Venice and La Jolla, California, by classifying these post office closures and sales as “relocations.”

We have to put the “public” and “democracy” back into the U.S. Postal Service leadership that seems to have another agenda other than serving the American people and fulfilling the Postal Service’s original mission to provide a service to bind up this nation and facilitate communication for the public good. It is undemocratic that the USPS is trying to cut the public out of a process that prevents them from filing an appeal regarding the closure and sale of their post offices.

If this is “acting like a business” then Congress must act to change the model currently being used for the U.S. Postal Service before the fire sale of our historic New Deal post offices and other historic post office treasures are sold on the market for a quick profit despite the protests of each local community.

What Will Save the U.S. Postal Service?

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The Story of the U.S. Postal Service

In 2006 the United States Postal Service (USPS) handled 213 billion pieces of mail, the largest volume of mail in the history of the postal service since the beginning of the post office on July 26, 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress.

On December 7th and 8th, 2006 the lame duck Republican House and Senate passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) (H.R. 6407) on a voice vote alone, and on December 20, 2006 President G. W. Bush signed the bill into law. Within the bill was a section that contained what could be considered a poison pill that could undermine the financial health of the United States Postal Service.

People of Venice Fight to Save their Historic Post Office

Venetians, artists, writers, poets join with politicians and Teamster President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln to rally to save the Historical Art Deco Mural and Post Office from being sold. Speakers, including Councilman Bill Rosendahl, join again to support the endeavor. Music by Suzy Williams and The Nicknamers, Balloons, Poetry, Politicians, Venetians and Fun.

Speakers make an impassioned plea to save the Venice Post Office and to recognize that closing the Venice Post Office will not return USPS to profitability. Also that USPS is violating its own moratorium on closure of post offices by beginning to destroy the Venice Post Office prior to the May 15th end date of the Moratorium.

Jim Smith, MC for the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office rally, said:

“Nearly every organization in Venice is in support of this [to save the Venice Post Office] and has been working together in a Coalition but this goes far beyond Venice. The postal service is being destroyed, both within and without, by its own management and by Congress which is beholden to Wall Street and to the 1 percent (%).”

The Venice Post Office was constructed in 1939 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and in 1941 Edward Biberman painted an historic mural reflecting the history of Venice. Speaker, Terry Stoller, President of the California Area Local American Postal Worker’s Union (APWU) who represents the clerks and custodians in Southern California stated that the Venice post office is “well-constructed, beautiful and has genuine heart in it.” He also said, “The post office was mentioned in the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago.”:

“The entire postal service is being sold to the highest bidder, not to those with the highest purposes and the highest aspirations.”

Emily Winters, Chairperson of the Venice Arts Council said at the above Venice Post Office Rally:

“This post office really represents the hub of art activity in Venice.”

Winters said the Venice post office is a beautiful Spanish revival building built by the WPA with taxpayer dollars and the Edward Biberman mural has important historic significance.

Title VIII of the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act titled the “Postal Service Retiree Health Benefit Fund” contained Section 8909a which mandated that the United States Postal Service prepay its Retiree Health plans 75 years in advance in only 10 years. Beginning on September 30, 2007, in addition to other pension plan obligations, the USPS would have to pay an additional $5.4 Billion dollars or more each year until 2017.

No government agency or private company has ever had to prepay its pension plans 75 years in advance in only 10 years. This poison pill within the PAEA began sucking the money out of the profitable USPS when the 2007 severe Recession caused a sharp economic downturn and decline in mail volume.

Then in 2007 the economy tanked and mail volume declined.

New Thinking About the Postal Service

Prior to 1970 the postal service was called the U.S. Post Office Department. It was a cabinet level position and a full government agency.

Under President Nixon, a Commission was established that eventually resulted in the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. This act began mandating that the postal service would no longer be a cabinet level position, it would no longer be a Post Office Department. Instead the postal service was told by Congress that it would have to act like a business. It would have to completely pay for itself without tax payer dollars. It would be a quasi public-private organization.

Destruction of USPS Unions by Upper Management

Instead of seeing its unionized work force as a positive asset, the Postmaster General and upper management seem to want to undermine the postal worker union’s ability to have a contract be respected. After tough negotiations in 2011 that resulted in the Unions agreeing to a wage cap, the Postmaster General Donahoe turned around and wanted to break the contract that said there would be no lay-offs of workers. Instead, jobs could be reduced by attrition when people retired. To date, thousands of jobs have been reduced due to attrition.

It turns out that the plan to close almost 3700 post offices and 252 processing facilities is based in many instances on the idea that the post office will move from 6 day delivery to 5 day delivery. Congress has not approved this plan and hopefully will reject it because it is bad for business, bad for local communities and bad for our economy. However, the postal service is trying to close post offices as fast as it can in spite of the moratorium on post office closures in December 2011 until May 15, 2012. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe thinks he will save the USPS by ultimately closing 15,000 post offices over the next year. This is total upside-down thinking and will have negative impacts on local economies, regional economies, our national economy as well as jeapardize our upcoming 2012 elections.

The Illusion that the Moratorium Covers All Post Offices on Earlier Closure Lists

The postal service is still moving ahead full speed to close postal facilities that it began trying to close on its list of July 26, 2011 and also lists prior to that date. Even though the moratorium is in place, each community needs to be aware of when their particular postal facility was first announced for “study” or “closure.”

Also, the moratorium does not include closure of a post office that is defined as a “relocation.” Technically a post office could be closed and sold if it is determined to be “relocated.” However, since a different facility is planned to be substituted for the current facility in the community, the United States Postal Service claims this is not a “closure.”

It really is a bait and switch tactic because the current post office building which may be of historical significance and contain important New Deal era art murals or sculptures would be sold to the highest bidder. The “relocation” tactic is an underhanded way to prevent the public from formally filing an appeal to prevent a “relocation” and subsequent closure and sale of the post office and its property. Some people in the USPS legal department must have been tasked with finding a way to shed the pesky public from trying to prevent closure of their post offices in their community.

Saving the USPS

If you have suggestions you can go to the USPS OIG website and make suggestions. Here are a few suggestions I think would help save our postal service:

1)  Expand services in current post offices to include so-called “non-postal” services such as notary public, copying of documents, issuing of licenses, verification services for the internet and more. Senator Sanders has many suggestions regarding this.

2) Keep all post offices open.

3) Keep 6 day delivery of the mail

4) Keep mail delivery standards for first class mail and other mail instead of slowing mail by two to three days. In our fast-paced era we need to insure mail delivery is fast and effective. Slowing mail is counterproductive and could lead to reduced revenue from customers turning away from USPS because it is so slow.

5)  Insure that historic post offices and post office murals are on the National Register so they are eligible for certain funds for renovation and renewal. Highlight these buildings as places of interest for tourists, especially buildings with art murals, sculptures and special architectural designs.

6)  Enable the post office to sell items tracing the history of the post office and the local community. Sell items that highlight the role of the post office in the history of that community and the U.S.

7)  Congress should allow USPS access to its overfunding of its various pension and retiree health plans. Recalculate assessments that are reasonable for paying into these programs to insure they are properly funded for workers.

8)  Stop forcing the Postal Service to operate only “as a business” without taxpayer support. The Postal Service guaranteed by our Constitution was created to improve communication and “bind up the nation” through providing for fast speedy mail.

Tell your Senator to support Senator Sanders’s Bill S. 1853 which would truly save the USPS. He speaks here about the current 5-year plan by USPS as being “Deeply Flawed.”

USPS Cuts Public Out of Appeals Process with New Rules

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Postal Regulatory Commission Eliminates Public’s Ability to Appeal Closure & Sale of “Relocated” Post Offices

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

From “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, Chapter VI, Humpty Dumpty


Through the Looking Glass with the New Definition of the Word “Relocation” of a Post Office

The Federal Register contains information regarding pending rules submitted for comment to the public. Each pending rule has a deadline. After a set period of time, the rule becomes final and is published. Frequently the general public has no clue about what rules are “pending” and what the consequences of the rule means in terms of potential negative outcomes to the public.

Take for instance the rule that was submitted to the Federal Register by the Postal Regulatory Commission called “Appeals of Post Office Closings” 39 CFR Parts 3001 and 3025 [Docket No. RM2011-13; Order No. 814]. The Agency that submitted this rule was the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Action they were seeking: “Proposed rulemaking.”

The Summary of the rule sounds like the new rule is going to make it easier for Americans to appeal the closures of their post offices. However, even though the appeals process is simplified to a degree by the new rule, it also contains another passage that redefines what is considered a “relocation” of a facility. Here is the definition:

Within the Section entitled “II. Advantages of the New Rules”

“The new rules specifically clarify that when a retail facility is relocated within a community so that the number of facilities within that community does not change, that relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission.” (See 54180 Federal Register/Vol. 76, No. 169/Wednesday, August 31, 2011/Proposed Rules)

What does this new definition of “relocation” mean to people who want to save their post office in their community? This new definition is published under “Advantages of the New Rules” section. How is “relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission” be an advantage to the public? 

Here is an explanation of what this new “relocation” definition means related to closing a post office. If a community receives notice in a press release that its post office will be “relocated” within a community, the public will not be able to appeal that “relocation” to the Postal Regulatory Commission. If a post office is “relocated” to another facility, the original post office could be closed and sold and the public has no recourse with USPS or the Postal Regulatory Commission to legally voice their concerns in a way that could stop the “relocation” and possible sale of the original post office. These words “closed” and “sold” are conveniently disappeared from the definition of “relocation.” Even though in reality an historic building like the Venice Main Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office, or La Jolla Main Post Office could be closed and sold, because these post offices are defined as only being “relocated” to another part of the community, the new rule prevents the public from being able to appeal the closure and sale of its historic post offices.

This new rule to “simplify” the process just simplified the public out of the process for “relocated” post offices. In other words, because of this new rule, the United States Postal Service (USPS) can legally close any post office it chooses, sell it without the public having any say about the matter if USPS calls this a “relocation” where they then put the post office in a different facility in the same community.

Is this fair? Is this democratic? Is this right? This rule only makes it easier for USPS to do whatever it wants with its facilities despite the valid concerns of the public about closing or relocating a particular post office. This new rule enables the United States Postal Service to legally have carte blanche in selling post offices without input from the local residents who will be affected by the sale and closure of their post office. This is a perversion of the law because it cuts the public out of the appeals process in a very nuanced and nasty way. And most people had no knowledge that this rule could cut them out of possibly appealing the closure of their post office.

Where is Government Of the People, By the People, and, For the People when USPS cuts the people out of having input into what happens in their own community?

This rule deliberately enables the USPS to not have to deal with the public about post offices that will be relocated. This is truly unbelievable and undemocratic.

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

Post Offices Built Prior to the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act

The United States Postal Service and Congress need to be reminded that all the postal facilities built or purchased prior to the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 were paid for by taxpayer dollars. However, the top leadership and legal counsel at USPS and the Postal Regulatory Commission fail to understand this important point because many post offices like the Venice Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office and La Jolla Main Post Office were built in the New Deal Era in the 1930s. They were built with taxpayer dollars. Yet, these very post offices that have served people in their communities are being sold for a fast buck similar to CEOs who raid corporations by selling off their assets to squeeze every bit of money out of a company. Then all that is left is a skeleton of a company. Is that what is happening here?

This is a misuse of definitions, law, and rulemaking to make it legal to eliminate the public from the process of deciding what happens to public facilities in their own community. This is antidemocratic and this rule should be changed.

Divestiture on the Unspoken Road to USPS Privatization

Is the United States Postal Service top leadership focused on selling off its assets in an attempt to rid itself of its infrastructure using its current economic situation as an excuse? This article, “How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step” on the SavethePostOffice.com website outlines a clear blueprint showing how the undoing of the postal service as a public good replaced by a privatized version began with the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act and has been happening piece by piece for decades to the present.

It is up to Americans and Congress to stop the fire sale of their historic post offices which now are being sold off using new definitions of words like “relocation” to edit out the public’s ability to even participate in an appeals process to stop the selling off of their community post offices. The latest misuse of the “relocation” scam happened by this USPS press release on January 10, 2012 in a special announcement titled “Postal Service plans to relocate La Jolla Post Office.” Here is some of the text of that strange announcement which blames the internet in part for the reason it is “relocating” this post office. There is no mention that that facility is profitable and that there is no “similar” building like it anywhere in La Jolla because it is an historic treasure to that community:

“Within the process of the Facility Optimization, the La Jolla Main Post Office would be relocated to a similar location within 1 mile of the current site.”…”The Postal Service has retained the real estate professionals of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) to handle the real estate transactions.”

Let’s put out the fire sales now shall we.

USPS Uses Flawed Process to Close Historic Ukiah, CA New Deal Post Office with Art Mural

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Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural painted in 1938

Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural, "Resources of the Soil" painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham

The Ukiah, California branch post office built in 1936 during the New Deal Era under President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1937, qualifies as a building protected under the National Historic Preservation Act. The mural inside the post office, “Resources of the Soil,” painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, reflects the “American scene” of the surrounding community. The work features two leading industries in Mendocino County  at the time of the painting of the mural: farming and lumber milling.

However, even though the  Ukiah Main Post Office was pre-approved as qualifying to be on the National Register of Historic Buildings, according to a letter sent to USPS General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons by Ukiah Mayor Rodin on April 23, 2011 (see petition brief exhibit 11, Docket No. A2001-21), the USPS failed to complete the necessary documents to get the Ukiah Main Post Office approved on the Historic National Register:

“Under the National Historic Preservation Act [Section 110(2)(1)], the USPS has an affirmative duty to nominate the Ukiah Post Office for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. USPS failed to perform this duty. The initiative of Congressman Mike Thompson on April 8, 2011 in submitting a completed nomination package to the USPS and the California State Historic Preservation Office assists the USPS in compliance and establishes that the Ukiah Post Office is eligible for listing on the National Register.”

“When it is put to the test, any independent judicial authority will find that it is “feasible” for the Postal Service to continue to use the Ukiah Post Office. Therefore, the National Historic Preservation Act, as presently written, makes the proposed closure illegal.”

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936 during Roosevelt's New Deal

Despite serving the people of Ukiah for 75 years, the U.S. Postal Service decided to close the beautiful Ukiah Main Post Office claiming it will save money. The lack of transparency in the closure procedures and the USPS management officials’ refusal to complete documents that would put the Ukiah Main Post Office on the National Register, puts a cloud over the entire process. The community protested the closing of their beloved post office which is a centerpiece of the town’s downtown economy and historic heritage area, but the USPS decided to close it anyway. An article, “A First Class Farewell,” by Carole Brodsky on in the Daily Journal stated:

“It’s despicable,” said attorney Barry Vogel, who worked with a group of citizens to prevent closure of the Ukiah branch. “These closures take the guts out of local communities, subjugating us so that we become less free. We have fewer services and it makes life more difficult for hard-working people who have used this post office for 75 years.”

“Anger and sadness were palpable in the crowd, and no one seemed convinced that the closure would truly provide cost savings to the beleaguered institution.”

Touring Ukiah

This video at 54 seconds shows that the Ukiah Main Post Office is located next to many businesses in the downtown area.

The New Deal Era Ukiah Main Post Office was in easy walking distance for residents because it was located in the “heart” of historic downtown. The USPS leadership decided to close this beautiful historic landmark which it owned outright and move the post office to an out-of-the-way annex on the edge of town. According to the website, SaveThePost Office.com:

“5,000 signatures were gathered opposing the Ukiah closing.”

United States Post Office Officials Denied Ukiah Residents Key Information Regarding Decisionmaking Process for Ukiah Post Office Closure 

The USPS sidestepped having to notify the residents in the normal “discontinuance” process because the post office is moving to another “annex on the edge of town.” Instead of calling this a “closure” of a post office, USPS claims it is a “relocation” which has a different set of procedures surrounding how the public is notified. Residents filed an objection to the closing and proposed sale of the Ukiah Main Post Office with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) on August 10, 2011. A portion of the brief filed with the PRC by the “Save Ukiah Post Office Committee and Michael E. Sweeney states:

The Ukiah Main Post Office, 224 Oak Street, Ukiah, is Postal Service property and has been a centerpiece of the city’s downtown since it was opened in 1937. lt has approximately 1500 post office boxes and receives heavy customer traffic, much of it walk-ins from the surrounding commercial and residential area.

In early 2011, it became known in Ukiah that the Postal Service was planning closure of the Ukiah Main Post Office. On January 31, 2011, Petitioner Sweeney made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Postal Service for the feasibility study, building survey, preliminary budget and other writings pertaining to the proposed closure. On February 17, 2011, Postal Service Facilities Manager James Barnett denied the FOIA request for all significant documents on the grounds that they were exempt from disclosure as internal deliberative documents. On February 23, 2011, Sweeney appealed the denial of the FOIA request to Postal Service General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons [Exhibit 1]. The appeal was denied on March 25, 2011 [Exhibit 2].

Responding to public concern, Congressman Mike Thompson wrote to the Postmaster General on February 2, 2011, requesting a copy of the assessment study on the closure and the financial analysis [Exhibit 3]. The Postal Service denied his request in a letter dated February 15, 2011 [Exhibit 4].

Does the U.S. Postal Service have something to hide?

Why did the Postmaster General and other officials of the United States Postal Service, including the General Counsel of the USPS, Mary Anne Gibbons, repeatedly refuse to allow the people of Ukiah access to key documents about the Ukiah Main Post Office closure? Even Congressman Thompson was denied access to documents that would help the people more clearly understand how the decision to close their beautiful historic post office and relocate it to a location on the edge of town was made.

On March 9, 2011, Ukiah Mayor Mari Rodin sent a letter to the Postal Service requesting information so the town could conduct an “independent appraisal of the condition of the Main Post Office,” and the Postal Service also denied this request.

It is astounding how much effort the USPS top leadership went to in order to deny key information to the people of Ukiah which would help them clearly understand the process used to close their Historic Main Post Office. There is something terribly callous about the behavior of the USPS leadership to disregard the will of the people, from the residents to the Mayor and City Council of Ukiah to the County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors and even to Congressman Thompson.

Why isn’t the mainstream media asking more questions regarding the secrecy surrounding the methodology used by the United States Postal Service to suddenly push to close thousands of post offices throughout the United States? Then, in spite of a recent moratorium announced on December 13, 2011 of closures until May 15, 2012, the USPS seems to be closing facilities like the Ukiah Main Post Office anyway.

According to the petition filed with the PRC, eventually the USPS provided partial information regarding the costs involved in relocating the Ukiah Main Post Office. It would cost approximately $360,000 to make changes in the Orchard Avenue Post Office to replace the Main Post Office in Ukiah. Many residents believed this and possibly other costs would outweigh any potential “savings” by closing the Main Post Office and relocating it to the Orchard Avenue Post Office that was not properly suited to handle a steady stream of customers. The Orchard Avenue facility was used mostly as a bulk mailing processing center. It was never designed as a regular post office to serve the needs of all of the people in the town.

County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors said in their letter of March 22, 2011 to the San Francisco District manager of the United States Postal Service:

“The proposed closure and relocation of postal service to the periphery of the community will have profound negative impacts on the downtown core.”

“At the February 23rd meeting a sheet was presented allegedly documenting the cost savings of the proposed closure. The community members present were told that the underlying data is not available for inspection. It is completely unacceptable that the USPS intends to withhold this information from the local community. This refusal fuels the suspicion that the proffered numbers will not withstand scrutiny. For instance, it is alleged that the Main Post Office requires $780,000 in capital improvements, yet the USPS anticipates selling this single purpose building that requires major upgrades for $600,000.”

“We renew the request that the USPS release the data that supposedly supports the recommendation to close the Ukiah Main Post Office. We also believe many of the current box holders and package service customers will resort to other options if the proposed recommendation is not reversed, likely resulting in an unanticipated loss of revenue to the USPS.

We hereby state our strong support for the recent request by the City of Ukiah to conduct an independent assessment of the Ukiah Main Post Office facility. Refusal to honor this reasonable request will further call into question the accuracy of the USPS assessment of the building.”

Postal Regulatory Commission Advisory N2011-1 Claims Post Office Closures Lack Sound Methodology for Deciding on Closure and Consolidation of Postal Facilities Nationwide

There is a gross violation of the public trust occurring with the blatant disregard for how communities are affected on multiple levels by the closure of important historic postal buildings as well as other postal facilities. The Postal Regulatory Commission’s  advisory opinion Docket # N2011-1 published on December 23, 2011, states:

“One of the Commission’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that universal service is maintained. Alternative retail access, including alternative access channels, is extremely important to the Postal Service’s universal service obligation. Closing facilities has an impact on service and puts a strain on the Postal Service’s Network as well as customer access to the postal system. Accordingly, the Postal Service should consider how a potential closing affects alternative retail access, including access channels, before a final determination on the discontinuance of a particular facility is made. It is not enough for alternative access channels to have the potential to become available in the future. The effectiveness of particular alternative access channels and alternative retail facilities must be considered prior to, and simultaneously with, discontinuance studies. For example, as described above, Village Post offices are limited substitutes for full service postal retail facilities.”

In the Executive Summary the PRC’ Advisory Opinion Docket No. N2011-1 claimed:

“The Postal Regulatory Commission has analyzed the Postal Service Access Optimization Initiative, a program that identifies more than 3,650 post offices, annexes, stations, and branches for possible closing.

The Commission has evaluated the Postal Service’s presentation and the evidence submitted by interested members of the public, and finds that the Retail Access Optimization Initiative is likely to affect service on a nationwide basis. The primary Commission finding is that notwithstanding its name, the Retail Optimization Access Initiative is not designed to optimize the retail network.”

Basically the Postal Regulatory Commission decided that the USPS Retail Optimization Access Initiative (RAOI) does not “optimize” the “retail network” of USPS. In other words, there is no sound financial basis for the methods used to decide which postal facilities to close or consolidate. If anything, the closure of postal facilities would have an adverse affect on local communities financially and in reducing postal service, especially to the elderly population.

Therefore, why is USPS still closing the Ukiah Main Post Office when it fails in every instance to clearly explain its reasoning behind closing the Ukiah Historic Main Post Office under the thin guise that it is not really closing the post office, it is merely “relocating” it to the Orchard Avenue Postal Facility?

Roosevelt Island Post Office Saved by Residents and Elected Officials

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Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

Historic Plaque on Roosevelt Island. Photo: Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

The USPS had initially included the Roosevelt Island Post Office in New York City on the list of almost 3700 post office closures in August 2011. However, due to elected officials efforts such as Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney who represents New York’s 14th District, Manhattan’s East Side and Western Queens, on December 14, 2011 USPS said the Roosevelt Island Post Office would remain open for now.

Thousands of residents objected to the closing of the post office when it was announced this summer. It is the island’s only post office and it serves over 12,500 residents including many elderly and disabled people who would have great difficulty going to another post office over 1 mile away from Roosevelt Island.

Why did USPS Target Roosevelt Island Post Office for Closure in the First Place?

It is odd that the U.S. Postal Service leadership would target the Roosevelt Island Post Office for closure. By closing this post office the residents would not have any post office on the island. Something seems to be deeply flawed regarding how the Postmaster General and his officers decide which post offices will be “studied” for closure. At a time when we need to create more jobs and revitalize the economy, closing post offices and laying off workers is counterproductive to stimulating the economy.

The negative multiplier effect of closing postal facilities should be denied by Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission. The jobs of postal workers should be protected and expanded. The Post Office has the potential of being an even greater hub of the local community.

The “Village Post Office” Poor Replacement for Full Service Brick and Mortar Post Offices

The “Village Post Office” which Postmaster General Donahoe and his advisors are pushing fails on many levels:

The Village Post Office only sells stamps and priority packages. Customers would not be able to send a letter by Express mail or to get a package certified as they would from a full service post office.

Another Solution that is Better for America

Senator Sanders recently attended a series of town hall meetings in Vermont and listened to hundreds of residents who spoke out against closings of post offices and postal processing facilities. Instead of closing post offices and putting people out of work, Sanders suggested expanding postal services and keeping post offices open.

He said USPS needs more flexibility to be able to better serve its customers by offering services such as:

  1. Notary Public
  2. Licenses
  3. Copying Services
  4. Verification of documents possibly sent via the internet

However, in recent years certain laws were passed that limited the types of services USPS could offer its customers. One wonders why the postal service was asked to be profitable, operate like a business, and then told it can only provide limited services to the American people.

Sanders said we need to give the postal service more opportunity to serve Americans in ways that meet the needs of its customers.