Postmasters Respond to USPS Attempt to Dismiss Organizations’ Complaint Over Proposed CFR Changes to make it easier to close post offices
On 6/13/2011 the Post Office filed a motion with the PRC to dismiss the complaint that LEAGUE and NAPUS filed on 5/23/2011 asking the PRC to stop the Post Office from making the proposed changes to 39 CFR part 241. On July 5th NAPUS and LEAGUE filed a response to the Request to Dismiss.
July 6, 2011
National Association Of Postmasters of the United States and National League of Postmasters in their filing to PRC:
The gravamen of Complainants’ Complaint is that the Postal Service, through several distinct but coordinated acts and claims of authority, is significantly changing the postal services available to the nation. The pre-2006 Postal Rate Commission already had broad discretion to review service changes, as a corollary to its authority over rate and classification changes. Congress, in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), substantially increased and broadened the Postal Regulatory Commission’s authority. The Complainants have asked the Commission to exercise that increased authority to protect the public through a temporary stay and declaratory judgment.
The Postal Service, in the most extensive section of its Motion to Dismiss, misses the point of both the Complainant’s Complaint and of the PAEA. Motion at 6-15. First, the Service attempts to ignore the statutory forest by focusing on some isolated trees: In discussing the PAEA the Service points to 39 U.S.C. § 3662 and states that it “limits the Commission’s subject-matter jurisdiction,” puts “express limits on the Commission’s complaint jurisdiction,” “narrowly limit[s] the Commission’s jurisdiction,” and reflects a “trend in the legislature history to narrow the Commission’s complaint jurisdiction,” rather than recognizing that, under the PAEA, Congress expected the Postal Regulatory Commission to do more to enhance Postal Service accountability through active oversight. Motion at 6, 8, 10, and 11.
Second, in the face of the Postmaster General’s declaration that the Postal Service expects to close half of its facilities (see Attachment “B”), while proposing to short-circuit the public’s appeal rights, the Service characterizes this as merely an “internal aspect” concerning “staffing and network-management,” or a matter of “employment relations,” or a “postal employment matter.” Motion at 9, 12, and 13. (In a related claim, the Postal Service argues that Congress’ definition of a “postmaster” as the “manager in charge of a post office” imposes absolutely no limitation on “the Postal Service’s authority to determine the staffing and scope of its retail facility network.”39 U.S.C. § 1004(i)(3) (emphasis added); Motion at 38, 39.)
The “big picture” is that Congress, in the PAEA, expanded Postal Regulatory Commission jurisdiction and oversight. The very title of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act explains its intent: to enhance the accountability of the Postal Service, and this was not to be accomplished by postal introspection. The Congress transformed the Postal Rate Commission into the Postal Regulatory Commission, with expanded regulatory authority.
The Postal Service insists that a nationwide change in service has not occurred, and that “if a program is developed to discontinue Post Offices on a scale that would effect a nationwide change in service,” the Postal Service would then comply with the requirements of § 3661. Motion, 23. The purpose of an advisory opinion is to obtain input to potentially modify or even cease pursuing an intended course. Gradually increasing the scale of discontinuances without formally developing a program, in order to avoid classification as a “nationwide change in service,” guts the requirements of § 3661.
The Postal Service has been gradually closing post offices across the nation for years, purposefully suspending post offices and electing not to replace postmasters as they retire and choosing not to renew building leases in order to close the vacant post offices. The systematic closings occurring year after year create a conundrum when attempting to pinpoint precisely when the number of closings becomes “nationwide”: Is it 50 post offices per year? A thousand? Half of the existing post offices? Must the closings occur in more than ten states? Thirty states? Must the doors be closed and the communities abandoned before an advisory opinion is sought? There appears to be a de facto, but nonetheless clear policy of closing post offices wherever possible, but,with recent efforts to more aggressively cut costs, the creeping but widespread closings have ramped up to a heightened level that certainly reaches the level of “nationwide change in service” that obligates the Postal Service to obtain an advisory opinion.
Indeed, the Postal Service‟s recent, intensified efforts have come to the attention of Congress, postal customers and employees, countless local newspapers, and recently, even the Postal Regulatory Commission.