This story has been updated.
A House committee on Thursday advanced a measure to reinstate U.S. Postal Service delivery standards from 2012, which would effectively halt any of the agency’s desired facility closures.
The provision was attached as an amendment to the financial services and general government appropriations bill after being introduced by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. The unanimously approved amendment would restore the delivery standards in place in 2012, meaning most first-class mail not leaving a city would have to be delivered overnight.
The Postal Service previously reduced the amount of mail it delivered overnight and shifted a substantial amount of mail from a two-day delivery standard to a three-to-five day range. Overall, USPS downgraded its delivery standards for about 28 percent of first-class mail. USPS cited those changes as necessary to enable it to consolidate facilities and rely less heavily on air delivery. The agency shuttered 141 processing facilities in 2012 and 2013, and had begun closing an additional 82 in 2015 before it suddenly decided to cancel those plans last year.
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The slower mail delivery and corresponding consolidations have generated controversy and have proved major sticking points in delivering comprehensive reform to the agency. Mailers and lawmakers have complained products have reached consumers more slowly, while unions have bemoaned the massive job cuts and relocations.
The Postal Service has defended the changes, saying the first phase is saving the agency $865 million annually, while the new round of cuts would generate an additional $750 million each year. If signed into law, the provision could actually force the USPS to reopen already closed facilities, as the standards in place before the consolidations would be reinstituted.
“Have you noticed delays in mail delivery lately?” Kaptur asked in a Facebook post on Friday. “They're due to changes in standards imposed by Postal Service management. Well, it's time we restored delivery standards on the Postal Service.”
The appropriations committee approved the same amendment in its fiscal 2016 bill, but the language was stripped from the final omnibus spending package. The Postal Service lambasted the amendment last year, saying it would cost the agency $1.5 billion annually and $500 million in one-time costs. The Congressional Budget Office found USPS could not afford to reopen facilities and deliver mail more quickly, as the provision would have required.
“Yesterday's House Appropriations Committee vote to roll back mail delivery service standards to 2012 levels is financially and operationally indefensible, and the Postal Service strongly encourages the Congress to remove this requirement,” said Sarah Ninivaggi, a USPS spokeswoman, at the time. “The Postal Service simply cannot afford costly, legislatively-mandated inefficiencies that undermine our viability as a self-funding entity.”
She added the delivery changes were part of an effort to maximize efficiency through “the most comprehensive operational transformation” in USPS history. That makeover was taken “in recognition of the economic reality” of shrinking mail volume, Ninivaggi said, which will continue to decline.
Requiring USPS to “forego vitally necessary future cost savings would be highly disruptive to our operations and our employees -- and to our business customers who have already invested in and otherwise adapted to our current service standards,” Ninivaggi added.
The American Postal Workers Union had the opposite reaction, praising the amendment’s passage and saying it would help postal stakeholders.
“This is great step forward for postal workers and our customers -- big and small,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. He noted it was just a “first step in a long process,” and his union would “do everything in our power to make sure the amendment becomes law.”