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Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 05/01/2012

Senators to Postal Service: Don’t close post offices until after Congress acts


(Timothy Fadek - Bloomberg)
Four senators are pushing the U.S. Postal Service to hold off on closing post offices and distribution centers until after Congress passes long-awaited legislation to revamp the struggling mail carrier.

The Postal Service, eager to implement a three-year, $22 billion cost-cutting plan, expects to resume closing thousands of post offices and hundreds of distribution centers May 15, after it agreed to wait until that date so that Congress could pass a bill revamping the agency’s finances and delivery network.

If the closings plan resumes as scheduled, officials plan to begin closing and consolidating hundreds of post offices and processing centers between June and August, and then to suspend the closings again during the fall months in order to ensure the swift delivery of election and holiday mail. Closings would then resume again early next year.

But with the House and Senate unlikely to strike a deal in the next two weeks, the four main sponsors of a bipartisan Senate postal reform bill passed last week told Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe in a letter that “There is considerable concern in the Senate” that resuming closures this month “will unnecessarily degrade the infrastructure which is one of the Postal Service’s most important assets.”

The letter was sent Monday by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thomas Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) wrote to Donahoe.

The senators said the Postal Service also should wait to close facilities because the Senate bill passed last week might actually bar USPS from closing some of the sites slated to shutter.

“We believe an attempt to proceed with the planned closures – to ‘get in under the wire’ while legislation to the contrary is being considered – would be counterproductive and would violate the clear intent of the Senate,” the senators said.

USPS had no immediate comment.

Despite months of preparation and last week’s passage of the Senate bill, House Republican leaders and the bill’s primary cosponsors have been remarkably mum on when or if the House will vote on a Republican-backed bill or take up the Senate proposal.

The House and Senate bills differ considerably, with the House measure generally granting more flexibility to USPS to make changes, but also establishing a financial control board and a separate panel to determine which postal sites would close. The Senate bill would give USPS about $11 billion to offer buyouts to eligible workers and to pay down billions of dollars in debt, while placing restrictions on the types of postal facilities that could close.

Even as senators are asking USPS to wait longer before closing facilities, they also are pressing House leaders to hold a vote on a bill before mid-May. In a letter, Carper pressed House leadership Tuesday to act soon; he also launched a new Web site with a countdown clock set to expire May 15.

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This post has been updated since it was first published.

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