CRS Report: Common Questions About Post Office Closures

Congressional Research Service Report: “The U.S. Postal Service: Common Questions About Post Office Closures”


In recent years, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has announced initiatives to close up to 4,380 USPS retail facilities in rural, suburban, and urban areas. In May 2012, the agency may have changed course. The USPS issued a plan to “preserve” rural post offices, in great part by reducing their operating hours. In the same instance, the agency noted it was reviewing the status of 13,000 rural post offices, some of which might be closed. Thus, how many post offices may be closed remains unclear.

More than a dozen bills in the 112th Congress carry provisions that address post offices and the public’s access to retail postal services, including H.R. 2309, H.R. 2692, S. 1668, and S. 1789.

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) What is the role of the Postal Regulatory Commission in post office closures? (7) When might the post office closure process begin? (8) How many USPS employees may lose their jobs? and (9) 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 FY2011, the USPS had 35,119 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.

H.R. 2309, H.R. 2692, S. 1668, and S. 1789 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. 1668 would forbid any closure that would create more than 10 miles’ distance between any two post offices; and S. 1789 would alter the post office closure process and greatly reduce the USPS’s authority to close post offices.

This report will be updated to reflect significant developments.

Common Questions About Post Office Closures