The financially strapped Postal Service wants to streamline the process for closing local offices.
As many as 3,000 offices across the country may have their continued operations reviewed, postal vice president Dean Granholm said at a briefing. However, he said that doesn't mean all of those will close.
"I'm not certain that this is going to lead to wholesale closings," Granholm said. "We still need to make good business decisions."
The post office lost $8.5 billion last year and continues to face red ink, It has been looking for ways to cut costs, including a separate proposal to eliminate delivery on Saturdays, and recently announced plans to cut 7,500 employees. Over the last two years it has eliminated 105,000 full-time positions.
The process of closing an office can take more than 18 months and Granholm said the proposed changes in procedure should cut that to 138 days. But, he said, local communities will still be given a chance to raise objections, and closing decisions can be appealed to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission.
The new process could be in place by June, he said.
Under the change, the decision to review an office for closing would be initiated by headquarters under specific criteria, such as offices that are open less than two hours a day or which have five or fewer customers per day.
The Postal Service operates about 28,000 post offices as well as 4,000 postal stations and branches, and the new rule would apply to all of them. In the past the smaller stations and branches have not come under the same rules as the larger post offices.
Over the last six months the post office has closed 220 offices and 80 stations and branches, Granholm said.
People like having their local post office, Granholm noted, but at the same time many drive several miles to buy clothes, food and other items. The post office faces the financial pressures as other retailers, he said. Postal operations are not subsidized by tax money.
He noted that when offices have been closed in the past people have been upset by loss of their community name and ZIP code, so that will not happen in the future. Even if an office closes, Granholm said, residents will still be able to use their old community name and ZIP code on their mail, even though mail will go through a different office.
While the post office cannot close offices only to save money, it can close those that are underused.