EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 2598 - August 01, 2011     3 of 5

PRC Seeking Comments on Prospective Mass Postal Closings

By Kenneth Corbin

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Now that it has received the Postal Service's formal plan for evaluating nearly 3,700 retail locations for potential closure, the regulatory agency that oversees the service is seeking input from the mailing community on the impact of a widespread service reduction.

The Postal Regulatory Commission received a request for an advisory opinion from the Postal Service Wednesday evening, the formal beginning of a review process that will result in a report outlining the agency's position on the proposal. PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway said that the agency will work to complete its review as expeditiously as possible.

"This is a process that's moving quite quickly," Goldway said. "We're going to make it as short as we can."

That process will entail a series of hearings at the agency's Washington office where commission members will seek answers from Postal Service officials about the methodology behind the plan and its likely impact. The USPS has argued that widespread closures of its retail operations are an essential ingredient of its "right-sizing" initiative to put the organization back on solid financial footing. In the second quarter of the fiscal year, the period from Jan. 1 to March 31, the Postal Service reported a net loss of $2.2 billion, up from $1.6 billion in the same period last fiscal year.

The agency is also asking for comments from residents and businesses that would be affected by the changes. The PRC invites members of the public to submit feedback through the contact section of its website. Interested parties can also submit formal comments that will be added to the docketing record built around the USPS proposal.

The rather arcane Washington process of submitting comments for the record in an administrative proceeding can be difficult to navigate, however, and Goldway suggests that members of the public who are worried about the Postal Service's plan engage with their local officials. "I would encourage them to work with their local governments and their congressmen and senators if they're concerned to see if they can get assistance from those people to submit information to us," she said.

Goldway said that she has received an assurance from the Postal Service that it will not close any of the retail locations under review until Jan. 1, 2012.

Last year, the PRC conducted a probe into the Postal Service's stations and branches, which at the time were subject to a more casual and expedited closure process than the locations the USPS designated "post offices." That distinction, which was erased earlier this month with the final release of a new set of closure regulations, meant that the Postal Service often didn't provide as much notice to the community that would be affected if the facilities were shuttered. Through its 2010 review, the PRC held a series of field hearings canvassing the public for input, a process the agency does not plan to repeat with its current inquiry.

"We feel that the review that we did in 2010 on stations and branches where we held hearings around the country gave us a pretty good understanding of what people around the country feel about their post office," she said. "We're going to focus on the process questions this time."

That means that all the hearings will be in Washington, and USPS officials can expect to be grilled on questions surrounding how they arrived at their projections of cost savings, how the locations under review were selected, and the implications of leaning more heavily on privately operated "Village Post Offices," as the organization is proposing.

While she is only beginning to review the formal proposal, Goldway expressed concern that private facilities may reduce the availability of services such as P.O. boxes. She also observed that the list of facilities under review seems to focus disproportionately on rural areas.

See Part 1 of EcommerceBytes special report on the USPS plan to close thousands of retail offices in, "Number of Post Offices on Chopping Block Closer to 4,400 than 3,700."

About the Author
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here .


About the author:

Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.


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