By Sen. Carl Levin
In late April, the Senate approved an important bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service. Though the bill was not perfect, it makes important changes to help the Postal Service adapt and thrive in the 21st century. And it includes an amendment that I helped write that I believe will help protect postal facilities in Michigan and across the nation from unjustified closures.
There is little doubt that change is necessary; the Postal Service faces an extraordinary financial challenge, and it must make changes to take into account a new reality in which physical mail has in many cases been replaced by electronic communication.
But in making these necessary reforms, we must ensure that all the American people can continue to rely on the United States Postal Service to provide universal service, as it has since our nation’s founding. And we must ensure that in making changes, any reduction in facilities and personnel yields real cost savings to the Postal Service that outweigh the loss in service. Many communities in Michigan, large and small, urban and rural, are concerned that closures proposed by the Postal Service will degrade the service on which Michiganians depend.
One of the things we can do to assure that is to require that there be a real, objective way to test and challenge Postal Service proposals to close facilities. In an effort to meet those goals, I joined with Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, among others, to propose an amendment that made important changes to the bill.
Under current law, any interested party can appeal a proposed closure of a community’s main post office to the Postal Regulatory Commission. The postal reform bill extends that opportunity for appeal to branches of a post office. But it did not extend that same appeal right to postal processing facilities—the facilities where mail is sorted, routed and distributed to post offices. Our amendment established a meaningful appeal process for proposed closures of these facilities.
Recent experience showed me the need for a real appeal process. In February, I wrote to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe about the decision to close six processing facilities in Michigan. I asked questions about what savings the proposal would yield and the impact on service to Michigan customers. But when the Postal Service responded to my letter nearly eight weeks later, the response did not answer any of my questions satisfactorily. The inability to provide basic information indicates to me that a fair opportunity to appeal is crucial.
Our amendment made other important changes. It ensures that any postal facility proposed for closure will remain open during any appeal. It makes clear that the Postal Regulatory Commission, when considering an appeal, has the authority to reverse a proposed closure. It requires the Postal Service to consider whether closing a facility will result in actual cost savings and directs the Postal Regulatory Commission to reject any proposed closure that does not meet that test.
Postal reform is among the most significant issues we will consider this year. It touches every town and village, every person and every business across our nation. The Postal Service’s universal service obligation to ensure that all Americans have access to an affordable, efficient postal system in order to communicate with one another is among the most important obligations any agency or department has. It sets the Postal Service apart from private-sector firms that are under no obligation to serve all markets. The Postal Service’s first obligation is not profit. It is service.
I believe our reform bill will help the Postal Service continue to meet that obligation for decades to come. Now that the Senate has acted, I hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives can act quickly so Americans can continue to get the postal service they need and deserve.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.