Postal Service Takes Another Step Toward Consolidation

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. Postal Service announced last week it was moving forward with plans to possibly consolidate more than 250 mail-processing centers across the country and requested an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission on the matter.

The announcement created some confusion and many thought USPS had made a final decision to close sorting facilities around the country, including those in Kalispell and Missoula, which were listed in September as sites that could be consolidated.

“Because we said ‘moving forward’ it was interpreted that decisions had been made. That’s not the case,” said spokesperson Pete Nowacki.

Nowacki said nothing has changed in the process that began in September and no decisions have been made about the consolidation of facilities in Missoula or Kalispell. He said the public comment period is wrapping up in the coming days and a decision would be made early next year. Last week, USPS requested an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that oversees the postal service, and Nowacki said it was just another step of the process outlined earlier this year.

Members of Montana’s U.S. delegation, however, have criticized how the postal service has proceeded with the potential closures. Both Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus called for the postal service to delay the closure of any retail store or processing facility for at least six months, giving Congress more time to craft legislation that would prevent the need for consolidation.

“The postal service is moving quickly and in the wrong direction to make ends meet,” said Baucus in a press release. “Shutting down rural post offices and sending Montana area mail processing facilities out of state will not create the kind of savings necessary for a long term solution. We need a timeout before we see our rural post offices shut down and jobs lost.”

According to the postal service, the government agency must cut operating costs by $20 billion in 2015. USPS ended the 2011 fiscal year with $5.1 billion in losses, although it could have more had Congress not passed legislation to postpone payments of retiree health benefits. In order to reduce the agency’s ballooning costs, the postal service announced this past summer that it would review more than 3,700 retail offices across the country for potential closure. Eighty-five of those offices are in Montana, including stores in Dixon, Elmo, Olney and Stryker. In September, USPS announced plans to close or consolidate 252 mail-processing centers, including those in Missoula and Kalispell. If the postal service were to move forward with consolidation plans, it would save up to $3 billion annually.

At a public meeting on Dec. 7 in Kalispell, officials from the postal service said closing the Kalispell processing facility would save more than $575,000 annually. The postal service’s proposal would call for mail that is now sorted in Kalispell or Missoula to be sorted in Spokane. However, the move would end overnight mail service in western Montana.

Nowacki said regardless of demands from politicians, until there is legislation that changes something, the postal service will move forward with the process it began earlier this year. Nowacki said something must be done for the postal service to survive in the future, and that includes the possibility of cuts in Montana.

“We don’t know and don’t speculate on any particular office,” he said. “But just considering the magnitude of our financial situation, it is possible that a lot of facilities will close.”

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.