Rahall Says Postal Service Must “Go Back to the Drawing Board” on Post Office Closures

BECKLEY, W.Va. – Citing a recent study that found overly optimistic savings projections and an insufficient attention to community needs, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) Tuesday called on the Postal Service to go back to the drawing board on its efforts to close and consolidate postal facilities in southern West Virginia.

“The Postal Regulatory Commission was blunt in its assessment of the Postal Service’s closure process – citing unreasonable assumptions about cost savings and an insufficient focus on the needs of communities where post offices are proposed to be closed,” said Rahall, who has been active and vocal in opposing the Postal Service’s efforts to close postal facilities in southern West Virginia. “In light of the Commission’s findings, the Postal Service should go back to the drawing board in its discontinuance studies. It needs to formulate a plan that increases network efficiencies while fulfilling its statutory service obligations.”

The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the independent government entity created by the Congress to oversee the Postal Service, recently issued its Advisory Opinion on the Postal Service’s Retail Access Optimization Initiative – the current effort to close nearly 3,700 post offices nationwide, including 85 post offices in southern West Virginia. The Commission found that the Postal Service was unable to provide the data necessary to confirm its cost savings projections associated with the post offices proposed for closure. The Commission also expressed concerns about ensuring that alternatives are available to meet the needs of affected communities prior to a postal facility closure decision. The Commission concluded that “notwithstanding its name, the Retail Access Optimization Initiative is not designed to optimize the retail network.”

In a concurring opinion, PRC Chairman Ruth Goldway strongly rebuked the Postal Service’s closure process, noting: “The Commission has recently heard appeals on more than 60 individual post office closings. The records in these cases reveal a pattern of inaccurate and overly optimistic economic savings calculations and of careless disregard of community concerns. While the facts of those cases were not considered by the Commission in its Advisory Opinion, they nevertheless demonstrate an ongoing institutional bias within the Postal Service that presumes closing small post offices automatically provides cost savings and network efficiencies.”

In October, Rahall urged the Postal Service to place a moratorium on any post office closures until a practical and realistic plan for managing and responding to legitimate citizen concerns had been formulated. He welcomed the Postal Service’s decision to postpone any closings or consolidations until May 15, 2012, and urged citizens to press the Postal Service to rethink current closure plans.

“Rural areas, like southern West Virginia, have the least access to the Internet, email, and cell phone service; we need our post offices. Postal services play a tremendous role in the ability of citizens in these areas to stay connected. Until a plan is developed that does not compromise the current services available to my constituents, I implore you to stop further proceedings to close or consolidate postal facilities in southern West Virginia,” Rahall wrote in a letter to the Postmaster General in response to the Advisory Opinion.