PRC supports NNA recommendations for better selection criteria for post office closings

Jan 6, 2012

WASHINGTON—The Postal Regulatory Commission has recommended that the U.S. Postal Service take another look at its approach to closing post offices, supporting many criticisms made by National Newspaper Association in its fall 2011 testimony.

The PRC released its opinion in the USPS proposal to close retail offices, laid out in the case Retail Access Optimization Initiative. The Postal Service is required to seek the PRC’s input whenever it embarks upon major service changes.

NNA participated in the case to argue that although it did not categorically oppose small post office changes, the selection of offices to be closed and the manner in which USPS sought public feedback were flawed. The PRC agreed with NNA and strongly suggested that USPS revise its plans. PRC Chair Ruth Goldway was particularly critical in a separate opinion, saying the proposals “reveal a pattern of inaccurate and overly optimistic economic savings calculations and of careless disregard of community concerns.”

NNA President Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News in Benson, MN, said NNA had achieved its goals through evidence offered to the commission.

“We said at the outset we were not opposing post office closings, but that we saw major gaps in the Postal Service’s approach. Through the expert testimony of our Postal Committee chair, Max Heath, we pointed out flaws. We are gratified that the commission was able to use our information in its final opinion. Now we hope to support the Postal Service in a more rational approach to this problem,” Anfinson said.

Among the problems were:

• USPS decision to count only front-counter stamp and package sales as incoming revenue when deciding whether an office is unprofitable, while ignoring the bulk business mail revenue essentially coming through that office from newspaper, shopper and direct mail business.

• Inadequate development of plans to allow newspaper mail to be entered at alternative facilities being developed as post offices closed, such as the much publicized “Village Post Offices” intended to replace some post offices in rural areas.

• Poor transparency in conducting community meetings before a closing.
Heath said the PRC unanimously found problems with the USPS analysis of the effect of closings. Among other things, USPS was charting the new distances involved for consumers to reach remaining post offices through “as the crow flies” measurement rather than driving distances.

“I was particularly gratified that the commission takes such a tough line on transparency,” Heath said. “Through NNA’s testimony and our ongoing dialogue with USPS headquarters Vice President of Corporate Communications Sam Pulcrano, we had already secured a commitment that community meetings before a closing would become open to photographers and audio recordings. The initial meetings had produced quite a few complaints from our members about poor treatment of reporters and observers who wished to record the event for stories and for historical record. As a journalist, I found the practices ill-advised, and was grateful that Mr. Pulcrano made a promise to me to reform that aspect. But there is more to transparency than allowing reporters in. These meetings need to be better publicized and more conveniently scheduled. The commission agrees, and I applaud its strong mandate for openness.”

The case formally involved only 3,750 post offices on the hit list for closure, but USPS had said it intended to close more after the current round ends. Intervention by Congress as well as the commission’s recommendations may affect those plans. The 2012 federal spending bill passed by Congress in December contains a rider prohibiting the closing of small and rural post offices.

To see the full report go here.