The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

January 22, 2013

U.S. Postal Service seeks ‘right-sizing’ solutions

Justin Dennis

JOHNSTOWN — As part of a process to streamline services across the nation, many area branches of the U.S. Postal Service are tightening up their budgets and preparing to scale back operations – or reinvent them entirely.

Instead of drastic or finalistic decisions made at the company level, the solution to their money woes is currently being voted on by residents.

Beginning in late December, questionnaires were sent out to those who send and receive mail.

The money-saving plan that receives the most votes will be put into action.

Residents can choose to scale back the office’s hours of operation, consolidate their branch with a larger post office, establish a mobile carrier service or even choose to have mail delivered to the nearest business.

While most call this effort “downsizing,” USPS spokesperson Tad Kelley has a different name for it: “right-sizing.”

“We’re trying to match the structure of the postal service to match the volume of our workload,” he said.

It’s all part of the Postal Service’s “POST Plan,” developed in May as a way to keep from shuttering smaller post offices, even though the cost of operations may exceed the branch’s revenue.

“Our business model is antiquated,” Kelley said. “It’s constricting and it’s causing tremendous financial stress.”

Kelley said that by the Postal Service figures, the current universal mail service – that is, delivering directly to each door – wastes around $25 million a day. Last year, the agency defaulted on its yearly retiree benefit payments for the first time ever. And for a company that’s “bleeding red,” posted a $15 billion deficit for the 2012 fiscal year and has no federal or state tax allotments, any wiggle room in the job they do could be a huge boon.

“We still need that critical savings piece that comes with that maneuver of changing the organization,” he said. “The part we can control is the savings we’ve been gaining every year (with right-sizing.)”

Here’s where the “right” comes in. The company is aware that post offices take on unique roles relative to the community – often they’re community hubs and windows to the world at large. It’s about finding the right fit for each community’s needs. And with electronic mail and increased parcel service demand, those needs have been changing over time.

“In 2006, we delivered 216 billion pieces of mail,” said Kelley. “In 2012, that number was 176 billion pieces of mail.”

Branch closures were initially discussed in 2011, but extreme resistance from communities forced the Postal Service back to the drawing board. The four options devised, as part of the POST Plan:

• Keep the local office open based on the actual workload and adjust the operating hours.

• Discontinue the local office and consolidate service with a nearby branch.

• Discontinue the local office and offer roadside mail delivery, including many retail postal services such as stamp purchases and parcel pickup.

• Establish a “Village Post Office,” which would serve residents from a nearby business. Retail services would be available, along with the added benefit of operating within the host business’ open hours

After the surveys are collected in a few weeks, residents will receive a letter informing them of the time and location of a community meeting. More feedback about how the company should handle the transition will be gathered there.

“More often than not, people are accepting of cutting back hours,” Kelley said.

The POST Plan will be a two-year, multiphased process, according to Kelley, and the total savings expected could exceed $500 million per year. The agency expects to wrap up the transitions by September 2014.

“Mail is still viable to Americans,” Kelley said. “We could be a very strong company long into the future ... but we do need relief from this untenable business model Congress has put us under.”

Proposed cuts

The number of operating hours that are proposed to be cut at local post office branches:

Dilltown    6

Daisytown    4

Ohiopyle    4

Shanksville    4

Sipesville    4

Cairnbrook    4

Dunlo    4

Mineral Point    4

Berlin    2

Stoystown    2

Nicktown    2

Armagh    2

Central City    2

Colver    2

Elton    2

Hollsopple    2

Jerome    2

Lilly    2

Loretto    2

St. Michael    2

Sidman    2

South Fork    2

Summerhill    2

Vintondale    2


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