The nearly bankrupt U.S. Postal Service is moving ahead with plans to close dozens of mail-processing centers, saying on Thursday it can no longer wait as Congress remains deadlocked over how to help.
At a press briefing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the agency’s mail-processing network had simply become too big, given declining mail volume and its mounting debt. It will now consolidate nearly 250 plants as originally planned, including 48 this summer, but will stretch out the remainder over a longer time frame in 2013 and 2014.
Earlier this month, nearly half the Senate had written letters to Mr. Donahoe asking that he hold off on closing any mail facility until Congress could pass final postal overhaul legislation. The Senate last month passed a bill that would halt many of the closings. The House remains stalled over a measure allowing for more aggressive cuts.
“To return to long-term profitability and financial stability while keeping mail affordable, we must match our network to the anticipated workload,” Mr. Donahoe said. Failure to do so, he stressed, would “create a fiscal hole that the Postal Service will not be able to climb out of.”
Under the modified approach, up to 140 processing centers will be consolidated by February — roughly 48 in August and about 90 in January and February. Closings would be suspended during the Postal Service’s busy election and holiday mail season. Another 89 closings would occur in 2014.
The consolidations are expected to reduce postal staff by 13,000 and save the struggling mail agency roughly $1.2 billion annually once they are fully implemented.
The latest postal move comes after vociferous protests from communities across the U.S., particularly those in rural areas, over the mail agency’s initial multibillion-dollar cost-cutting plan to close up to 3,700 post offices and 252 mail-processing centers. The Postal Service last week backed off the closing of post offices, saying it would cut costs instead by reducing operating hours.
Mr. Donahoe stressed that even with its latest moves, the agency still faces mounting losses without congressional action that would give it more leeway to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and reduce health and labor costs.