David Goldman/AP

House Panel Backs Faster Mail, More USPS Facilities

Postal Service says 'indefensible' measure would cost $1.5 billion annually.

A House committee on Wednesday 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. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., formerly the head Democrat on postal issues. The 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 month.

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 would reach 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.

The amendment was part of an “effort to not have slip away unconsciously the great service of a Constitutionally required institution,” Fattah said at the committee markup. “We have the very best [Postal Service] in the world. It’s critically important to the economy and the citizens of our nation."

USPS, meanwhile, lambasted the amendment, saying it would cost the agency $1.5 billion annually.

“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. “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 exact opposite reaction, praising the amendment’s passage and saying it would help postal stakeholders.

“This is an important step forward for postal workers and our customers, large and small,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “This is a vivid example of how the demands of postal workers reflect the people’s demand for good postal service.” He praised union members for their role in pushing lawmakers to accept the provision, but noted the full House and Senate must still pass it.

The appropriations bill included another thorn in the side of the Postal Service, with the committee once again approving a rider to mandate the agency deliver mail six days each week. USPS has for years pushed to eliminate Saturday delivery as a cost-savings measure, but Congress has included the rider in every appropriations bill since 1983.