On a recent Thursday, an Architect of the Capitol employee stood alone at the counter of the Capitol’s only post office, putting stamps on envelopes for his monthly bills.
Hardly a monumental event, to be sure, but the ordinary convenience of the closet-sized room in the Capitol’s cavernous West Terrace area may soon go the way of Congressional ice delivery and the Office of Technology Assessment.
The U.S. Postal Service is considering shuttering the Capitol post office, along with the other four House-side locations, to the dismay of some Capitol Hill staff.
“I do find it very useful. It’s very convenient for us,” the AOC employee said, adding that he and his colleagues who work in the building frequently use the post office. “If they close it down, I’ll have to walk all the way to another building.”
Facing sagging revenues, the Postal Service is contemplating closing 3,653 locations around the country. More than 3,000 of those offices are on the short list because they take in less than $27,500 in yearly revenue.
But far from the oft-vacant rural offices that Postal Service cost-cutters say typify the agency’s excess, the House locations are relatively well-traveled. They landed on the list not because of low traffic but because they are essentially redundant; there are five or more “alternate access points” within a half-mile, USPS spokeswoman Sue Brennan said. Just 188 other locations considered for closure meet those criteria.
That’s not to mention the fact that the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer pays more than $1 million per month to private postage firm Pitney Bowes to pick up mail from and drop it off to about 800 Member and committee offices four times a day.
In fact, many House staffers do not seem to know there are five post offices in their midst: in the Capitol, on the Cannon House Office Building’s second floor, on the Rayburn House Office Building’s first floor, in the Longworth House Office Building’s basement and in the Ford House Office Building.
That may be why, when asked, Members and staff said they would not mind if the Postal Service consolidated a few of the five locations.
“I wouldn’t mind if they get rid of some of them around here,” 14-term Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said. “I have used them, but very infrequently.”
“I don’t mind getting up to walk down so it wouldn’t bother me,” said one House staffer leaving the Longworth post office after buying stamps and sending a letter. “I use it, but maybe just once a month.”
Nevertheless, Members and staff said there should be at least one post office to serve the House side of the complex for employees who may spend more time under the Dome than at home.
“The post office maintains hours when Congress is in session. I work for Congress. That’s where I stamp. That’s where I drop my bills,” one staffer said. “The only hours the post office where I live is open when I’m there is Saturday mornings.”
The Postal Service would not release specific figures outlining how much foot traffic or revenue the locations take in, saying only that each makes less than $1 million per year.
But anecdotally, staffers said the largest and most-traveled office seems to be in Longworth, located in a busy basement hallway across from the Congressional Federal Credit Union, where the building intersects with Cannon and the Capitol. At any given time of day, there may be a line in the facility to send mail or buy stamps, greeting cards or packaging supplies.
“If I go to the Longworth cafeteria, the post office is right there. I find it incredibly convenient to be able to run down there and buy stamps,” a House staffer said. “It’s nice to walk into what would be, I guess, your local post office.”
The other House post offices are smaller and somewhat remote, but staffers who know they exist seem to appreciate having a post office inside the building in which they work. Rayburn’s post office is smaller than Longworth’s and located near the building’s entrance, across from the now-vacant office of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). The Cannon location is smaller than Rayburn’s and only moderately larger than the one in the Capitol.
“I’ve definitely gone over there and turned in Netflix, and I’ve definitely gone over there and bought stamps and picked up shipping material,” said a House staffer who works in that building.
That Senate Sergeant-at-Arms runs two more offices in that chamber’s office buildings, and those are not threatened with closure.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.