The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service announced plans Thursday to target more than 250 mail-processing facilities for potential closure, including eight in Virginia and Maryland, while allowing itself more time to deliver first-class mail in an effort to save billions of dollars and return to profitability.
But what might be good for the Postal Service's bottom line may not be good for members of Congress.
Several lawmakers, eager to show constituents back home that they're going to fight to protect postal facilities in their home states and districts, wasted little time in sharply questioning the proposal.
The plan to review more than 250 processing facilities for potential closure is expected to reduce the overall postal workforce by as many as 35,000 jobs, a figure officials said they expect to reach through attrition.
Saying the Postal Service faced "a new reality," Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said that officials were forced to make the cuts because of sharply declining mail volume.
Mail volume has declined by 43 billion pieces in the past five years, while first-class mail dropped 36 percent during the same period, officials said.
In a press briefing at Postal Service headquarters in Washington, Mr. Donahoe said that in the face of these declines, "maintaining a vast national infrastructure is no longer realistic."
He also called for lawmakers of both parties to help lift the Postal Service from its worst ever financial crisis.
"Congress needs to help right now with comprehensive long-term legislation," said Mr. Donahoe, who was named the 73rd postmaster general late last year.
"We need to resolve the six- to five-day issue," he said, referring to a proposal to eliminate a day of home delivery to save money.
When word got out about the potential closures, lawmakers scurried to find out if any were located in their states.
Within hours of Mr. Donahoe's announcement, Rep. Bruce L. Braley, Iowa Democrat, issued a press release that began, "Rain, snow and sleet haven't stopped postal workers, but bureaucrats in Washington want to."
Noting that the action by the Postal Service could mean that "hundreds of Iowans will soon be unemployed," Mr. Braley, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has legislative authority over postal operations, said, "Now is not the time to lay off Iowa workers. I will fight this bad decision."
Four mail processing facilities in Iowa are up for possible closure.
Rep. Brian Higgins, New York Democrat, issued a statement that the potential closure of a postal facility in Buffalo "defies reason.
"We do not support this proposal and intend to stand with the residents, businesses and employees negatively impacted to fight it," he said.
Also within hours of the announcement, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, issued a statement that was less critical, in which he said he was "deeply saddened" to learn that a processing facility in Delaware was on the list of potential closures.
"I will be following the review process closely to ensure that it is transparent and fair to employees and customers ... ," he said.
Still, Mr. Carper said the announcement by the Postal Service was part of an ongoing effort to streamline operations to reflect reduced demand for services.
"The hard truth is that, if nothing is done, the Postal Service is going to lose $10 billion this year. Congress and the administration must act quickly to help the Postal Service save itself," he said.
Asked about potential politicking by members of Congress who might fight hard to keep facilities in their states open, Mr. Donahoe said the closure process would be fair and transparent. He vowed there would be "no favorites."
Under the plans, the Postal Service also plans to reduce the service standard for first-class mail from one to three days delivery to two to three days, meaning customers on average would not receive mail the day after it was sent, officials said.
There are four processing facilities each in Maryland and Virginia being targeted for potential closure, including centers in Gaithersburg and Waldorf and two in Norfolk. There were no facilities in Washington on the list of potential closures.
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