In late July 2011, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced it was considering the closure of 3,652 retail postal facilities. These are not the only USPS facilities that might discontinue operations. An additional 728 retail postal facilities are being considered for closure under a 2009 USPS initiative, for a total of 4,380 USPS retail facilities.
Four bills in the 112th Congress carry provisions that address post offices and the public’s access to retail postal services—H.R. 2309, H.R. 2692, S. 353, and S. 1010.
This report addresses common questions about the closure of post offices. Questions answered include (1) What is a post office? (2) How many post offices are there? (3) How many post offices might the USPS close? (4) What authority does the USPS have to close post offices? (5) What is the current post office closure process? (6) When might the post office closure process begin? (7) How many USPS employees may lose their jobs? and (8) What current legislation carries provisions related to post offices?
Colloquially, the term “post office” often is employed to refer to any place where stamps are sold and postal services are provided by USPS employees. However, the USPS differentiates among several categories of postal facilities, including post offices, post office branches and stations, community post offices, and contract postal units. At the end of FY2010, the USPS had 35,633
retail postal facilities.
Congress has given the USPS considerable discretion to decide how many post offices to erect and where to place them. Congress also requires the USPS to provide the public with access to retail postal services (e.g., sales of postage, parcel acceptance, etc.).
Both federal law and the USPS’s rules prescribe a post office closure process, which takes at least 120 days. The USPS must notify the affected public and hold a 60-day comment period prior to closing a post office. Should the USPS decide to close a post office, the public has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission. Sixty days after it has made a closure decision, the USPS may shut down a post office.
The USPS has not provided a clear timeline for its consideration of the possible closure of the 3,652 retail postal facilities. Nor has the USPS reported how many employees might lose their jobs. The USPS has said that “[n]o facility closure or service change resulting from this initiative will be implemented before late December 2011.”
H.R. 2309, H.R. 2692, S. 353, and S. 1010 are very different from one another. Among their other provisions, H.R. 2309 would reduce the number of post offices; H.R. 2692 would alter the post office closure process; S. 353 would require the USPS to expand the provision of postal services via private retail outlets; and S. 1010 would increase the USPS’s authority to close post offices and require it to expand retail services via other means. All four bills were in committee at the time of this report’s publication.
This report will be updated to reflect significant developments.
Congressional Research Service (CRS) report by Kevin Kosar