Democrats criticize USPS consolidation plans

USPS said on Thursday that it could close at least 223 processing centers as part of its push to cut $20 billion in annual costs by 2015.

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The agency, which also has shown an interest in closing up to 3,700 local post offices, also acknowledges that its push to downsize will essentially end next-day delivery of first-class mail in many cases.

But the Postal Service also says that, with mail volume plummeting, it is doing what it can to stay afloat. USPS also wants to end Saturday delivery and has said that it could run out of money this year if Congress doesn’t act on reform legislation.

“What we are doing is adjusting our operational realities to the current market,” David Williams, the agency’s vice president for network operations, said late last year.

Under the consolidation plan outlined Thursday, no processing centers would be closed before May 15, as part of an agreement USPS made with lawmakers in December.

David Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, also told The Hill that the decisions on closures were not yet final. The American Postal Workers Union has noted that the Postal Regulatory Commission has also yet to release its advisory opinion on the changes.

In all, the closing of the processing centers would eliminate as many as 35,000 positions, though a Partenheimer said that attrition would account for most of the job losses.

Postal employees affected by the consolidations would also be able to apply for jobs elsewhere in the agency.

The Postal Service is also still examining whether to close six more processing centers, and has decided not to shutter 35 others, at least for the time being.

On Thursday, top Republican lawmakers working on a postal overhaul praised USPS for taking the next step in closing the processing centers and urged the agency to stay the course.

“Rightsizing is essential to solving the Postal Service’s financial crisis,” Reps. Darrell Issa of California, Dennis Ross of Florida and Justin Amash of Michigan, said in a joint statement.

“If USPS leadership actually goes through with a realignment, instead of caving to political pressure again, it will be an acknowledgment that no budget gimmick is going to restore the Postal Service to solvency.”

For their part, Democrats on Capitol Hill alternately praised USPS for saving processing centers in their backyard and bashed the agency for moving forward with consolidation plans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), for instance, said the Postal Service made the right move in keeping a Reno facility open, which means mail from the area would not have to be processed in Sacramento.

“The loss of the Reno mail processing plant would have been devastating to Northern Nevada,” Reid said in a statement. “I am pleased that we were able to protect Nevada jobs and ensure that Nevadans continue to receive their mail in a timely manner.”

But Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, slammed USPS for continuing to study whether a processing facility on their state’s Eastern Shore should be closed.

“Relaxing delivery standards by moving mail processing from Easton to Delaware is simply not a practical or sustainable option,” the two senators wrote Thursday to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

Cardin and Mikulski are among the 26 Democratic senators who joined Sanders in pressing for changes to the chamber’s bipartisan postal overhaul bill.

The measure — sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) — is expected to get floor consideration in the coming weeks.

It would keep USPS from scrapping six-day delivery for two years, and allow the agency to use an overpayment into a federal retirement plan to help incentivize some postal workers into retirement.

But Sanders and other lawmakers say the measure would move USPS in the wrong direction, and the agency should be revamped in a way to allow it to offer more products and services.

House Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing their own bill that would, among other things, create an oversight board to recommend post office closures and other ways to cut costs.

Donahoe has said that neither chamber’s legislation would allow his agency to act enough like a business, which he said USPS needs to do to take on competitors like FedEx and UPS.