Having received the Request for an Advisory Opinion and the testimony of a USPS representative, the Postal Regulatory Commission publishes something called “Notice and Order Concerning Request for an Advisory Opinion Regarding the Consideration for Closure of Approximately 3,650 Postal Retail Locations Order No. 778 (Issued July 28, 2011).”[The Notice and Order document is here, and the contents of the docket are available on the PRC website, here.]
The PRC's statement begins by reviewing what’s happened so far.
The Request was accompanied by testimony from one witness, James J. Boldt, the National Manager, Customer Service Operations, in the Office of Delivery and Post Office Operations at Postal Service Headquarters. Boldt’s office has primary responsibility for developing policies and procedures relating to the day-to-day operations of post offices, opening or closing of those facilities, and improving customer experience.
Boldt’s testimony describes the current state of the Postal Service’s retail network, including alternative access channels and underlying trends. He describes the RAO initiative as a systemwide approach to the decline in demand for retail services and the widespread availability of alternative access channels. His testimony indicates that the Postal Service will evaluate postal offices with low workload, stations and branches with insufficient demand and available alternate access, and retail annexes with insufficient demand and available alternate access.
The Postal Service intends to make use of the new “USPS Handbook PO-101” that reflects recent rules promulgated by the Postal Service concerning the methods to close or consolidate postal retail facilities. Finally, the testimony explains how the Postal Service’s new rules work and how they will be applied in the RAO initiative.
Timing. The request for an advisory opinion must be filed at least 90 days in advance of the effective date of the proposed changes. The Postal Service indicates that it started discontinuance actions consistent with the RAO initiative beginning July 26, 2011. The Postal Service contends that these actions are not “implementation” of a service change because the initial action of public notice of discontinuance is only an “information-gathering process.” The Postal Service states further that if discontinuation is announced, the facility must remain open for a further 60 days. The Postal Service states that it expects notices announcing discontinuances of particular facilities to be issued starting in late October through late December of 2011.
In other words, the process of discontinuance for these 3,500 post offices has already begun. If notices go out in November and December, these post offices could be closed before spring.
"Given the Postal Service’s financial position, the Commission finds it appropriate to expedite the proceeding. To facilitate expeditious review of the matter, the Commission expects parties to make judicious use of discovery, discovery objections, and motions’ practice. Every effort should be made to confer to resolve disputes informally."
Tracy Ferguson has been designated to serve as the Public Representative to represent the interests of the general public in this proceeding, assisted by John P. Klingenberg. Neither the Public Representative nor any additional persons assigned to assist her shall participate in or advise as to any Commission decision in this proceeding, other than in their designated capacity.
The schedule: The process is conducted much like a legal court case, with periods for discovery, presentation of the case, cross-examination, the opposing case, more cross-examination, and so on. The first hearing will take place on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, at which the Postal Service will present its direct case. The opposing side, the “intervenor,” will have its hearing begin on Mon., Oct. 3, 2011. Additional hearing will take place on Oct. 17 for “subrebuttals.” For the details of the schedule, see the PRC website, here. Presumably the PRC will try to issue its Opinion in early November. It’s supposed to try to complete the process in 90 days, which would be late October. It can go on as long as it wants, but the Postal Service may proceed with its closing processes after 90 days. Of course, it can do so even after the PRC Opinion is announced, even if that Opinion objects to the plan. The complete calendar is here.