(January 1, 2015) WASHINGTON — The Postal Service plans to begin a new round of plant closings and consolidations next week that will affect dozens of mail-processing centers, despite calls from the Senate to postpone the changes.
Last month, 30 senators, all but one of them Democrats, issued a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe urging the agency not to move forward with its “network rationalization” program until the agency has completed its analyses of potential impacts.
Spokeswoman Sarah Ninivaggi said the agency plans to respond to the senators’ letter, but she did not provide a timeline.
All told, the Postal Service plans to close 82 mail-processing centers nationwide this year, starting on Jan. 10.
Postal Service officials have said the consolidations will help the financially struggling agency save money and adjust to dwindling demand for first-class mail, one of its core services. But critics say the program will slow down delivery times and harm the agency’s brand.
The service has lost billions of dollars each year since 2006, and Ninivaggi said the agency will begin its network rationalization program, estimated to save $750 million annually, on Jan. 10 as scheduled.
Already, the Postal Service has consolidated 350 mail-processing facilities and taken other steps to reduce costs since 2006. In the past three years alone, the agency closed 143 plants and eliminated about 3,800 routes, in addition to reducing hours at more than 9,700 offices and trimming its workforce by 3,000 employees.
USPS said in its annual report to Congress in December that the past three years of changes “resulted in negligible service impact, required no employee layoffs and generated annual cost savings of approximately $865 million.”
The next phase of consolidation will increase delivery times and eliminate overnight delivery for “a large portion of first-class mail and periodicals,” the inspector general’s report said.
A Postal Service fact sheet says the changes will increase the average delivery time for first-class mail only nominally, from 2.14 days to 2.25 days.
Much of the Postal Service’s recent financial trouble stems from declines in mail volume, which has decreased by more than 27 percent since 2006. Nonetheless, some of the agency’s largest expenditures are beyond its control, including a congressional mandate to prefund retiree health benefits at about $5 billion a year.