Lawmakers mixed on potential USPS office closures

To help shield the potential loss of hundreds of post offices, USPS announced Tuesday that so-called Village Post Offices, to be run by local businesses, could be installed in some areas to pick up the slack for postal needs.

"By working with third-party retailers, we’re creating easier, more convenient access to our products and services when and where our customers want them," Donahoe said.

According to media reports, Donahoe also said at a Tuesday news conference that the office closures could save USPS $200 million a year, as the agency battles what looks to be a second consecutive year with a more than $8 billion deficit.

USPS is fast approaching the maximum of $15 billion it is allowed to borrow from the federal government as well. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said this year she fears the agency won’t be able to meet its payroll in the coming months.

Still, Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) slammed the service’s Tuesday release, saying that rural customers should not be punished for the service’s financial troubles.

“The fact is, maintaining our nation's rural post offices costs the Postal Service less than one percent of its total budget and is not the cause of its financial crisis,” Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

The USPS used three major criteria, according to Murkowski’s office, in lining up the roughly 3,700 sites announced Tuesday — short business hours, diminished volume and little foot traffic. The agency currently has some 32,000 local post offices scattered across the country.

Because of that criteria, far from all of the offices were in rural areas, with more than 15 sitting in ZIP codes in the Bronx and another dozen or so in Chicago ZIP codes. But Murkowski signaled that it would be harder to do without local post offices in rural areas.

“In many off-the-road-system communities, the Post Office is the only place where prescriptions are delivered, businesses can receive and send inventory, and banking is conducted,” the Alaska Republican said Tuesday.

Two other lawmakers — Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) — who have also taken an interest in USPS reacted more positively to the Tuesday announcement, casting the move as a step in the right direction.

Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said USPS had tens of thousands of extra employees, even as mail volume was dropping.

“The Postal Service domestic brick-and-mortar network is larger than McDonald's and Starbucks combined — the difference being that those businesses are growing and they are adapting to changing markets,” the California lawmaker said in a statement.

“In order to survive, let alone thrive in the 21st century, all options have to be considered and the Postal Service has to modernize the way it does business — including where and when it does business,” Carper, who heads up a Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees USPS, said in a statement of his own.

Collins, Issa and Carper have all introduced legislation to overhaul the Postal Service, with questions about whether USPS should be allowed to move to five-day delivery and how it should deal with pension and other retirement-related obligations.

The Postal Service had indicated earlier this year that it wanted to shutter as many as 2,000 local offices in 2011, and has also announced other cost-cutting measures, such as stopping payments to a federal retirement program.