The implementation schedule for POStPlan just got a little clearer. In a Q & A fact sheet posted today on the NAPUS website (available here), the Postal Service says the following:
“The PRC advisory opinion is expected August 23rd. Once the opinion comes back, Dean Granholm will lead the POSTPlan phased implementation. The POSTPlan implementation is expected to begin at the rate of approximately five offices per District, per week, starting with the vacant offices. The survey to the community will be done first, the survey results will be received, and then community meetings will be scheduled. The District Manager designee will go on site for the community meeting, they will receive the community’s feedback and recommendations regarding which path they want to take based on the three available paths. If the chosen path is the POSTPlan, Dean will work with the District to establish the level 2, 4, or 6 conversion date for the offices.”
The PRC’s official Procedural Schedule does not indicate when the Advisory Opinion will be completed, but given that the deadline for filing briefs is July 27 (unless the Postal Service decides to provide rebuttal testimony), the end of August is a reasonable expectation. In any case, it looks as though the PRC has notified the Postal Service to expect the opinion on August 23.
According to the summary spreadsheet provided by the Postal Service to the PRC, there are over 3,100 post offices on the POStPlan list with a postmaster vacancy. About 900 are being upgraded to Level 18, while 2,200 will be downgraded to Remotely Managed and have their hours reduced. A list of the 2,200 is here, and a map, here.
There are also about 4,000 postmasters retiring over the next three months. We don’t know yet how many of them work at POStPlan post offices, but let’s say 2,800. That's five thousand post offices without a postmaster. The Postal Service will begin the implementation process by reducing hours at these offices, probably starting with the 2,200 that have a current vacancy, then proceeding to those where the postmaster is retiring at the end of July, August, or September.
Since the 2,200 are already staffed by Postmaster Relief employees, the only savings for these post offices will come from reducing the hours. It probably comes to about $25 million a year — hardly worth the trouble for the Postal Service. A couple of thousand underpaid PMRs will see their hours cut by a third or half. They'll be the first to pay for POStPlan.
The implementation process will begin with a survey, then a community meeting. The community will be asked its preferences among "three available paths." Based on the Postal Service's presentation to the PRC, it's not quite clear how there are exactly three options. In the market research associated with POStPlan, there are five: (1) close your post office and go to another post office for services; (2) close your post office and set up a contract unit with a local business to run a limited service office; (3) close your post office and set up a contract unit with a local business to run a full service office; (4) close your post office and expand rural delivery; (5) keep your post office open with reduced hours.
As you can see, whether there are three paths or five makes no difference. There are really no options at all. It's just reduce the hours or close the post office.
The Postal Service will probably initiate the implementation process almost immediately after the Advisory Opinion is issued. It will go through the motions of a survey and community meeting to determine what everyone already knows — the community would prefer reduced hours to no post office at all — and then it will start reducing hours. It may take a few weeks for the postal bureaucracy to follow all the steps described in the appendix to USPS witness Jeffrey Day's testimony (p. 25), but we can expect to see the first POStPlan post offices with reduced hours in early October.
There are 74 USPS districts, so reducing hours at five a week would mean, on a nation-wide basis, 370 post offices per week. At that rate, it will take about 14 weeks to downgrade the 5,000 post offices without a postmaster.
That means all during October, November, and December, the Postal Service will be busy holding meetings and reducing hours and finding and training part-time workers to staff thousands of post offices. The Postal Service will suspend consolidations of mail processing plants from September through December because of the election and the holiday season, but management apparently thinks downgrading thousands of post offices won't be a problem.
POStPlan has been in production for over a year, yet somehow the Postal Service is going to release it at the worst possible time. Coming soon, POStPlan, the disaster movie.