Recent history has shown that congressional efforts to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service brings out the sentimental side of lawmakers: They want to save the quasi-governmental agency from financial ruin, but not at the expense of their dearly loved hometown post offices.
That sentimentality, however, does not extend to the local post offices of the Capitol campus.
On April 4, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., formally requested that the Postal Service close three post offices on Capitol Hill.
“We believe that, given the Postal Service’s deteriorating financial condition, it is time to reduce the level of postal services provided to the House of Representatives,” Issa and Miller wrote in a letter to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. “Congress should not treat itself to such privilege at the expense of the taxpayer.”
Issa and Miller, whose committees oversee the postal service and the operation of the House, respectively, asked Donahoe to close post offices operating out of the Capitol proper and the Rayburn and Cannon House Office Buildings and to consolidate all postal services into existing locations in the Longworth and Ford House Office Buildings.
The request aligns with a plan the Postal Service submitted to House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel in the fall of 2011, part of a bigger plan to shutter thousands of post offices and mail-processing centers around the country. That broad proposal was met with so much public backlash, however, that the Postal Service was all but forced to shelve its original cost-saving vision in favor of less contentious means to save money.
But Issa and Miller say the Postal Service was correct in its assessment that the post offices of the House and Capitol go beyond what is appropriate for members and staff.
For one thing, they argued in their letter, the agency’s original recommendation to shutter the three offices “was based on a survey that demonstrated extremely low usage of these facilities.”
They also pointed out that although all the locations are open to the public, “the security screening necessary to enter the buildings deters widespread public use, and since most official House correspondence is processed through an intermediary, several of these post offices receive very little foot traffic.”
When Capitol Hill was bracing itself for the closures in 2011, there were mixed feelings as to whether the congressional community would miss having the post offices. Based on anecdotal evidence collected at that time by CQ Roll Call, staffers with busy schedules enjoyed the convenience of having a post office located in their work place, particularly in the basements of their buildings.
Lawmakers who opposed the closures, on the other hand, were those who generally objected to any action by the Postal Service to cease operations at various facilities.
House Administration Committee ranking member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., declined to comment on his colleagues’ request. But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a statement to CQ Roll Call expressing his general support.
“We should consolidate postal facilities in duplicative areas, such as in the House Office Buildings,” Cummings, said, adding that a comprehensive and bipartisan postal service overhaul bill is what’s really needed to save the agency.
A spokesman for the Postal Service suggested that it might not be so simple to close the post offices on the Hill. Though the locations were already studied and found to meet the necessary criteria for closure, they might have to be studied a second time before consolidation could take place. The spokesman said that if the post offices don’t meet certain criteria, Congress would have to pass a bill to compel the agency to take the steps to close them.