It’s Friday the 13th: Let’s Kill the Post Office

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It's Friday the 13th, and Fox Business contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano has a scary thought: "Let's Abolish the Post Office."  According to Napolitano's latest "Freedom Watch" column, the postal service is a "Soviet-style behemoth" and an inefficient, non-competitive "dinosaur," and the only reason it even exists is because politicians are pandering to voters.  Don't think Napolitano is alone.  Conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute have been busy for years holding conferences, cranking out white papers, and testifying before Congress about why the postal service should be privatized.  

Next week a Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management  will hold a hearing on “Addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s Financial Crisis."  Don't be surprised if a witness or two argue that the postal service should just be eliminated altogether.   

In the meantime, communities across the country are expressing their dismay about the news their post office is being closed.  Today, like most every day over the past couple of months, brings news of more closings: In Ellisburg, NY, "Another rural community has found its post office on the chopping block, and residents aren't happy about it."  Residents of the hamlet Etna, NY (near Ithaca) are being forced to "imagine life without the post office."    

In Woodgate, NY, residents assembled outside their community post office Thursday afternoon, "and they weren't there to buy stamps.  Instead, they gathered united in a fight to keep a staple of their community open—the post office."  It's been the "heart and soul" of the community for nearly 100 years.  In Michigan, the village of Boon in Wexford County just learned their post office might be closing—TV news spot here.  And in a small town east of San Francisco, the headline reads, "Moraga Town Council Versus the U.S. Postal Service."

Maybe in the next sequel to "Friday the 13th," instead of haunting a summer camp, Jason will be stalking victims of a closed post office.  There will be plenty of them. 

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Say It Ain’t So, Obama

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President Obama has announced his intent to nominate Robert G. Taub as Commissioner, Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC).  That's bad news for those concerned about post office closings.  Taub, who's a former aide to a Republican Congressman, was instrumental in developing the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which is one of the reasons the Postal Service is in such financial straits.  As this article explains, "The cause of the Postal Service’s multi-billion dollar losses over the last few years is a little-known provision of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the USPS to pre-fund future retiree healthcare liabilities."  This costs the USPS more than $5 billion annually, and had it not been for these payments (which no other government agency is required to make), the Postal Service might be showing a profit instead of a deficit.  It's the Postal Regulatory Commission that plays a crucial role in the "discontinuance" process the Postal Service must follow when it chooses to close a post office.  The PRC handles an appeal when the public is dissatisfied with the Postal Service's decision to close a post office, and the PRC weighs in with an "advisory opinion" on proposed changes to the closure process—as it did just last week

 

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Closure News Roundup

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The Postal Service announced another quarter of losses, more than $2 billion, and warned it could be forced to default on federal payments for the billions it's borrowed from the government.

In the meantime, the closings continue. In Floriston, California, they closed a historic post office that dates back to 1872.  In Modesto, CA, prospective buyers have begun touring its vintage downtown post office—the 78-year-old landmark will be auctioned June 9 by the federal government.  In Veribesst, Texas, their little United Methodist Church was standing room only as residents confronted the U.S. Postal Service about the possible closing of their beloved post office.

In Nebraska, several congressmen have written to the postmaster general of the USPS expressing concerns about the closing of small rural post offices.  Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., 3rd Congressional District, said that the Postal Service "must uphold the original mission of serving both rural and urban areas. . .  I applaud the recent efforts by the USPS to balance its budget, but I hope it will keep in mind the impact on communities, jobs and urgent mail delivery when deciding whether to close a facility," he said.

And if you think things are bad in the U.S., over in the U.K. they've been closing hundreds of small rural post offices, and this week the company which runs the Post Office network has been accused of running a “secret closure programme” after news leaked that more than 400 branches have quietly closed and not reopened.  

(Photo: Joan Alioto takes a last look as Floriston post master before her retirement and subsequent closing of the Floriston post office April 30, 2011.  Amy Edgett / Sierra Sun.)

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Postal closure fight promised

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From the Watertown Daily Times: "PARISHVILLE — Town Supervisor Jerry G. Moore said closing the U.S. post office in the hamlet is a bad idea that will create a hardship on many in the community, especially senior citizens.  Mr. Moore said he won't let the U.S. Postal Service close the post office without a fight.  

"I'll get a hold of the board members and start spreading the word to try and get people in town aware of what is going on. We plan to do everything we can to let them know we need this post office," Mr. Moore said. "We've got to fight, we've got to write some letters, we've got to make some phone calls."  Read more.

 
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Keeping track of post office closings

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The website Postal Reporter is keeping track of all the post office closings, and they're neatly organized, state by state, with links to news articles about the individual closings.  It's a great website for keeping up with the latest news about all things postal.  And thanks to Postal Reporter for this perfectly apropos cartoon by Chan Lowe.  By the way, if you think this is supposed to be funny, read this.

(Cartoon credit: Sun Sentinel, Chan Lowe)

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Postmasters File Objections With USPS on Post Office Closing Regulations

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From the NAPUS website: "On Monday, May 2, the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S. (NAPUS) and the National League of Postmasters (LEAGUE) submitted “Public Comments” to the U.S. Postal Service, opposing proposed regulations that would result in the wholesale closing of Post Offices through the nation. In a joint comment, the two postal management organizations illustrated how the proposed rules violate current law, undermine post office accountability, weakens universal postal service to small towns and rural America, and jeopardizes the historic community role that Post Offices play. Appended to the comments was the expert legal opinion of former USPS General Counsel Harold Hughes, who views the proposed regulations as illegal and, therefore, should be withdrawn."

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Things go badly at meeting about post office closing

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As required by law, the Postal Service is holding meetings about the post offices it wants to close.  At a recent meeting in New Hartford, Iowa, where the Postal Service has its eye on several post offices, things didn't go so well.  Confronted by angry citizens opposed to the closure, two "postal service officials abruptly left the gathering at the middle school."  You can read the whole story here, and you can see the TV news video below.

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Historic post office in Venice, California: For Sale

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Another historic post office, this one in Venice, California, is set to close.  Like the one we posted about a few days ago, it's from the New Deal, built in 1939 by the Works Projects Administration.  The full story is here, and a blog on "save the Venice post office" is here.

Like many New Deal public buildings, the Venice post office has some significant murals, including "The First Thirty Years of Venice’s History,"  by Edward Biberman, painted in 1941.  That's Abbot Kinney in the middle, surrounded by the town he created.  Here's an interview with Biberman.

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The Postal Regulatory Commission Weighs in on Proposed Changes to the Closing Process

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On May 2, 2011, the Postal Regulatory Commission submitted comments to the Postal Service on its proposed changes to 39 CFR Part 241, which seek to alter postal regulations “to improve the administration of the Post Office closing and consolidation process” as well as apply “certain procedures employed for the discontinuance of Post Offices to . . . the discontinuance of other types of retail facilities operated by Postal Service employees.”  Here's the entire letter, and here are the  highlights:

1. The Commission wrote that the Postal Service’s goal to apply a single set of discontinuance procedures to all kinds of post offices (post offices, stations, and branches) was appropriate, but "the Postal Service’s execution of this goal is lacking in one very significant way: the notification of an opportunity to appeal decisions to the Postal Regulatory Commission." The proposal submitted by the Postal Service "does not provide for uniform procedures with respect to notifying persons served by stations or branches of an opportunity to appeal closing or consolidation decisions to the Postal Regulatory Commission."

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Harkin Opposes Proposal that Would Allow USPS to More Easily Close Rural Post Offices

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From Postal News:

"WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today wrote to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in opposition to a proposed regulation that would give the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) the right to convert post offices into stations or branches of larger post offices at their discretion. Once converted, the USPS would then be able to close rural post offices without any consultation with local citizens or concern about the impact on a rural economy. As Harkin points out in the letter, it appears that the proposed regulations are designed specifically to circumvent current laws to ensure local voices are heard. Currently in Iowa, many post offices are facing potential closures that would disrupt service."  Read more.

 
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