The U.S. Postal Service is pushing for a faster way to decide whether post offices should stay open or close by unveiling a new review process that officials say could result in shuttering thousands of locations this year.

Postal employees work out of about 32,000 locations nationwide, but with a growing number of customers buying stamps and packaging services at pharmacies, groceries and office supply stores, officials said Thursday it’s time to scale back.

“We feel it’s what we have to do to remain the organization that we are,” said Dean Granholm, USPS vice president for post office operations. “Any retailer in the business is going through the changes that we are.”

USPS closed about 300 locations in the last six months using what postal officials describe as a disorganized process that dragged often dragged on for years. The new computerized system announced Thursday would allow top officials in Washington to begin reviewing sites by the summer and assess a location’s feasibility within 138 days — a dramatically shorter period of review, Granholm said.

“This is not an effort to shutter all of our post offices,” he said. Officials plan to review about 3,000 sites by June; reviewing a location doesn’t mean it would inevitably close, Granholm said.

The proposed changes, submitted this week for publication in the Federal Register, are open to public comment for the next two months. If enacted, Granholm said USPS would focus first on whether to keep open thousands of smaller branches and stations located in city centers or farflung rural towns that may be less popular than other nearby post offices.

If a location is chosen for closure, letter carriers would deliver formal written notices to affected customers and give them two months to respond. Concerned customers could appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which would have up to 120 days to review the location’s fate. Communities that lose a post office would retain their ZIP code.

In an interview Thursday, PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway promised to carefully review the proposal, but seemed pleased that USPS is preparing new national standards. Any wholesale review “should be a plan that incorporates community concerns and the nature of individual communities,” she said.

The changes present a new source of tension between USPS and postal regulators and union leaders, who fear postal bosses are attempting to bypass the regulation process and quickly make operational changes without proper consultation with customers.

“It appears that the Postal Service is moving towards our opinion in some ways, and away from it in other ways,” Goldway said, reiterating her concern for a customer’s right to appeal any closure.

Granholm defended the plans, anticipating regulators will appreciate the new appeals process. Besides, “I feel we have the authority to change our rules” without regulator approval, he said.

USPS anticipates losing about $7 billion during the fiscal year that ends in September. It announced plans last week to eliminate 7,500 postmaster and administrative positions, on top of the 105,000 full-time positions cut by attrition in the last two years.

Postal officials are also pushing Congress to pass legislation granting USPS more flexibility in setting its delivery schedule, in hopes of eventually ending Saturday mail deliveries. Government auditors this week questioned the plans, cautioning any elimination of service would require careful planning. Lawmakers have yet to act on several proposals.

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