The U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday that is it targeting 3,700 post offices across the country for closure starting in January. The move is the service’s most intensified campaign yet to stave off financial losses by jettisoning money-losing retail operations.
In place of many —but not all —of the brick-and-mortar community fixtures where Americans buy stamps, drop off letters and mail boxes of Christmas gifts will be the post office of the future: a clerk in a local store or gas station, library or town hall who will dispense stamps and provide other limited services.
“It’s a really nice option in terms of access and convenience,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said of the new model, describing the added revenue from postal products as a lifeline for struggling small businesses. “Many general stores are hanging on for dear life out there.”
The Postal Service intends to review half of its network of 32,000 post offices for closure in the next decade, officials said.
The closures would affect almost every state and the Washington area, where dozens of post offices would close— from those servicing Congress in the U.S. Capitol to some in Leesburg. Rural, suburban and urban post offices would go.
The Postal Service hopes to save $200 million a year with the closures. But the plans are likely to trigger a battle with postal unions, local communities and members of Congress, who have slowed down proposed closures in the past. Donahoe said as many as 4,500 jobs are at risk, although employees would be able to apply for other positions within the Postal Service.
The announcement comes six months after the Postal Service announced plans to consider as many as 2,000 post offices for possible closure in areas where postmasters have retired or a building was vacant. Less than 300 of those have been shuttered, and 700 are still under review, said Dean Granholm, the agency’s vice president for delivery and post office operations.
But the contraction announced Tuesday —the first with a list of specific branches and stations attached —would move forward under a new set of rules finalized this month and intended to speed up closures. It’s the first time the Postal Service has identified offices that take in less revenue than they cost to operate.
The new system will involve community meetings to look for alternatives, and be subject to a review by the Postal Regulatory Commission. But that review is nonbinding.
The Postal Service has slashed billions of dollars in costs in recent years, reducing its workforce by 130,000 employees. But it expects more than $8 billion in losses in the current fiscal year, the result of plunging first-class mail delivery as Americans rely on the Internet to communicate. The agency has maxed out a $15 billion line of credit with the federal government and is hamstrung by an annual $5.5 billion payment into a fund set aside for health benefits for retirees. Several bills pending in Congress would alleviate some of the financial problems, but an effort to switch to five- from six-day delivery has gone nowhere.
“We’ve made heroic efforts to take costs out of the organization while providing continuing service,” Donahoe said, comparing the Postal Service’s predicament to the debt crisis facing the federal government.
Donahoe said he e-mailed a video to all Postal Service employees about the changes Monday night
Here is a map of post offices in the D.C. area that could be closed.
View Post Offices on the Chopping Block in a larger map