Postal Service closing Capitol Hill post offices in 'symbolic' move

Wednesday - 6/19/2013, 4:57pm EDT

The U.S. Postal Service has slated three post offices in the Capitol building and the surrounding House offices for closure by the end of August, citing declining revenue and mail volume at the offices.

USPS issued final determinations Wednesday to close three Capitol Hill post offices by August 23, which is expected to save about $2 million over the next 10 years. That's only a drop in the bucket in the agency's stretched-thin budget, but top House Republicans on the Administration and Oversight and Government Reform Committees hailed the move for sending a strong message.

"Congress should lead by example and not treat itself to a higher level of service than it needs or is available to the average American," Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the respective chairmen of the committees, said in a joint statement. "The cost savings from these consolidations are a small but symbolically important step in restoring USPS to long-term financial solvency."

The Postal Service's plan calls for closing the facilities in the Capitol building and the Rayburn and Cannon House Office buildings. The remaining offices will be located in the Ford and Longworth office buildings.

The three facilities on the chopping block are all retail annex locations and affected employees will be shifted to another location, USPS said.

Process began in 2011

Issa and Miller wrote to Postmaster General Pat Donahoe in April, urging the Postal Service to shutter the offices within the next three months.

"Although open to the public, the security screening necessary to enter the buildings deters widespread public use, and since most official House correspondence is processed through an intermediary, several of these post offices receive very little foot traffic," the letter stated.

In November 2011, postal officials first began studying whether to close the Capitol Hill post offices, according to a USPS statement provided to Federal News Radio. The agency gathered public comment and in a January 2012 notice proposed closing the three facilities.

As part of a broad cost-cutting maneuver, USPS identified about 3,700 under-used local post offices nationwide slated for possible closure in 2011. But after pushback from some members of Congress and postal-employee unions, the agency modified its plan. Instead of shuttering storefront offices, it announced a plan to cut window hours at 13,000 post offices around the country. The plan, however, kept the door open to closing offices in communities where there is a "strong preference for discontinuance," according to a Postal Regulatory Commission summary of the plan.

The Postal Service faces dire financial straits. In the most recent quarter, the agency reported a $1.9 billion loss. Last year, the agency hit its $15 billion borrowing limit for the first time even as it defaulted on two required payment to fund future retiree health benefits, totaling more than $11 billion.

Donahoe has repeatedly called on Congress to pass legislation giving the agency new authority to restructure and cut costs. But comprehensive postal reform legislation has mostly stalled. Last year, the Senate approved the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which actually would have made it more difficult for USPS to close facilities. The House never took up the bill.

Last week, Issa issued a jolt to the congressional torpor with the release of a discussion draft of new postal reform legislation. Issa's plan includes ending Saturday mail delivery (which USPS sought to do on its own) and modifying a requirement to pre-fund future retirees' health benefits.

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