The Postal Service has been producing lists of post offices it wants to close since early 2009, and there have been so many, it’s almost impossible to keep them straight. Even the experts can get them mixed up.
For example, earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report for Congress about post office closings called "The U.S. Postal Service: Common Questions about Post Office Closures." Its purpose, presumably, was to bring lawmakers up to speed as they prepare to debate various postal reform bills and deal with constituents protesting closings. The CRS report says that besides the 3,652 facilities being studied for closure under the July 2011 Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), “An additional 728 retail postal facilities are being considered for closure under a 2009 USPS initiative.”
But the 2011 non-RAOI list of 728 facilities has nothing to do with the 2009 initiative. The non-RAOI list consists almost entirely of main post offices, while the 2009 initiative was called the Stations and Branches Optimization and Consolidation (SBOC) initiative, and it focused only on stations and branches. The author of the CRS report should know better — he also wrote a report about the 2009 SBOC — but the report repeats this error three times in the course of its ten pages.
The mistake, though understandable, makes it seem as though the 728 non-RAOI post offices now being studied for closure had somehow been cleared for study by the earlier SBOC initiative, which is not the case. In fact, the Postal Service now says the non-RAOI post offices were never part of any plan. They were "locally generated" in the field and should be considered “ad hoc, isolated” proposals. There never was a plan, so the Postal Service didn’t need to seek an Advisory Opinion about them.
Given the significance of errors like this, it’s important to keep the lists straight. That may be almost impossible, but in hopes of bringing some clarity to the issue, here’s a list of the lists. There may be some mistakes here — which the Postal Service is invited to correct.
1. In early 2009, the Postal Service announced it would be reviewing 3,200 of its 4,800 stations and branches. As noted, this was called the 2009 Stations and Branches Optimization and Consolidation Initiative (SBOC). The Postal Service probably began its push to close post offices with stations and branches because the closing procedures were much easier and faster — four months instead of the nine necessary to close a main post office. (This was before the Postal Service revised its procedures so that beginning July 2011, post offices, stations, and branches will get the same closing procedure — which will now take four and a half months.)
The original list from May 2009 can be seen here, but it’s fairly useless in this form since it provides no station names or addresses. Better versions of the original SBOC list would come out later (see the Dec. 2010 list below).
Over the next several months, the Postal Service revised the SBOC list many times:
- On July 2, 2009, the Postal Service filed a request with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for an Advisory Opinion about the SBOC, and a list of 677 stations and branches was published in the Washington Post.
- In August 2009, the Postal Service told the PRC the list had increased to 750 stations and branches, but it told the Washington Post, “Despite that high number, Postal officials privately suggest the final list will likely number around 200.” And indeed, over the coming weeks and months, the Postal Service reduced the list several times. The list of 750 does not seem to be available online.
- On September 2, 2009, the Postal Service released a new SBOC list. At this point, it had been reduced to 413 rather than increased to 750. It can be seen here.
- In October 2009, another SBOC list was released, now reduced to 371 stations and branches; it can be seen here.
- By November 2009, the number was down to 241, and the Postal Service was arguing that the number of facilities under consideration was so small that "the potential service changes that could result from the Initiative are now insufficient to trigger the Commission’s jurisdiction to issue an advisory opinion, and that the Commission is obligated to terminate the proceeding” (Advisory Opinion, March 2010). The PRC ignored the request and continued with its process. (The November list does not appear to be online, but here's a note about it.)
- On December 14, the 2009 SBOC list was reduced to 168, and it can be seen here, along with the entire original SBOC, almost all of them identified as “Not feasible at this time.” (The 168 still under study are blank in the left column.)
- By January 29, 2010, the SBOC had 162 stations and branches; it’s here.
- On March 10, 2010, the PRC issued its Advisory Opinion about the SBOC and criticized the Postal Service for its lack of transparency, its failure to notify communities about impending closures, and the way it had not provided sufficient opportunities for public comment. By then the list had been been reduced to 156. Of these, 144 were recommended for discontinuance, but it’s not clear how many of them have ultimately closed.
That was pretty much the end of the SBOC, although some of these stations and branches, perhaps several hundred of the original 3,200, were eventually included in the RAOI. Some of them have already been closed. In its response to interrogatories for the Advisory Opinion currently being conducted by the PRC, the Postal Service has indicated that the SBOC has been completed, and most of the 140 or so left at the end have been discontinued.
The entire SBOC process was reviewed in this OIG report from Aug. 17, 2010, which also points to some of the problems with how the SBOC had been handled. (By the way, this report analyzed a selected group of the SBOC facilities for cost savings and found closing 28 stations & branches would save $2.7 million, approx. $100,000 each.)
2. In the fall of 2010, the Postal Service apparently put together another list and a new initiative, consisting of post offices it said it would be closing starting at the end of 2010. On Jan. 24, 2011, a list of 491 was published in the Wall Street Journal. It can be viewed here. The fate of the list is unclear, and the Postal Service never requested an Advisory Opinion about this initiative. A few of these post offices have closed, and some have probably ended up on one of the two lists that came out in July 2011.
3. In January 2011, at the same time as the list of 491 was published, the Postal Service announced plans to close 2,000 additional post offices. A list of these post offices was never published. The Wall Street journal reported that the Postal Service was reviewing 16,000 post offices — half of the nation's existing facilities — but this list has also not been published. An Advisory Opinion on the initiative to close these 2,000 or 16,000 post offices was never requested.
4. On July 26, 2011, the Postal Service announced its Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI), with a list of 3,562 post offices that it intended to study for closure. That process has already begun, the PRC is doing an Advisory Opinion about the initiative, which should be done by October, just about the time the first of the final determinations for closure are announced. The RAOI list is available in a state-by-state form on the USPS website as the "Expanded Access Study List," here. About 3,000 are main post offices, about 500 are stations, branches, and annexes, many of which were probably on the original SBOC list.
5. On July 27, 2011, the Postal Service released a non-RAOI list of 727 (or 728) post offices that had been initiated for closure before the RAOI began. It can be seen here. Some of them appear on the WSJ list of Jan. 24, 2011. Nearly all of them are main post offices, not stations and branches, so very few if any were part of the SBOC. The Postal Service says it did not request an Advisory Opinion on these post offices because the closure studies were initiated in the field, in an "ad hoc, isolated" manner.
6. On March. 28, 2011, the PRC released a list of post offices, stations, and branches that were closed for emergency suspension, despite a protest from the Postal Service that it remain secret. The list is dated Freb. 28, 2011, it contains 229 post offices and 137 stations and branches, and it's here. The PRC released an earlier list of suspended post offices in January 2010, so it's not as up-to-date, but it has more detail; it's here.
7. In addition to all these lists of post offices slated for closure, the APWU maintains a list of processing facilities that are under study for consolidation or that have already been consolidated. About 25 have been initiated for closure, and the USPS has indicated in plans to conduct 15 more. That list is here.
8. The USPS has recently announced it major plans to consolidate its processing network, reducing the total number of plants from 500 to 200. No list has yet been published about which ones would be closed. [UPDATE: The list came out on Sept. 14, and it can be found here.]
By the way, there does not seem to be a list of all the USPS post offices anywhere online, but you can find lists for each state’s post offices, separated into leased facilties and owned facilities, on the USPS website, here.
Those are the official lists that have been released by the Postal Service, the PRC, and the news media. There are additional lists on the Save the Post Office website. These include the following:
- RAOI list: On the sidebar in the box "Closing List," you'll find the July 26, 2011 RAOI lists, state-by-state, but with a link for each post office that goes to a page with more information about the facility. A map for these post offices is here.
- Non-RAOI list: This list is the same as the July 27, 2011, non-RAOI list published by the Postal Service, but it has a link for each post office that goes to a page with more information about the facility. A map for these post offices is here.
- Post offices closed between Jan. 2009 and August 13, 2011: This list was generated using the USPS "Postmaster Finder." It does not include stations and branches because the Postal Service hasn't consider them post offices. It contains 242 post offices closed Jan. 1 , 2009 – Aug. 13, 2011, of which 84 have closed since Jan. 1, 2011.
- Post offices, including stations and branches, closed since January 2011: This list was compiled from various sources, and it's here, along with a map, here. This list consists of 233 post offices, stations, and branches. About 110 are post offices, several of which appeared on the January 2011 list in the Wall Street Journal, and 120 are stations and branches, many of which probably were part of the original SBOC.
The lists just keep on coming, and there’s no reason to think that they’re going to stop. The RAOI and the non-RAOI initiatives currently studying post offices for closure will not be the end of them. The Postmaster General, the Board of Governors, and the forces of privatization behind the effort to close post offices are not going to stop until the “post office” is just a counter at Wal-Mart.