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Regional & National

Post office ponders closing 1 in 10 retail outlets

July 26th, 2011 10:22 am by RANDOLPH E. SCHMID

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Postal Service is considering closing more than one in 10 of its retail outlets.

The financially troubled agency was announcing Tuesday that it will study more than 3,600 local offices, branches and stations for possible closing.

Currently the post office operates more than 31,000 retail outlets across the country, down from 38,000 a decade ago, but in recent years business has declined sharply as first-class mail moved to the Internet. In addition, the recession resulted in a decline in advertising mail, and the agency lost $8 billion last year.

Most of the offices that face review are in rural areas, but postal officials say they are looking into alternative service, such as locating offices in local businesses, town halls or community centers.

In those cases the so-called Village Post Office would replace one to be closed.

Coming under review doesn't necessarily mean an office will close. The post office announced in January it was reviewing 1,400 offices for closing. So far 280 have been closed and 200 have finished the review process and will remain open.

Once an office is selected for a review, people served by that office will have 60 days to file their comments. If an office is to be closed, they will be able to appeal to the independent Postal Regulatory Commission.

In addition to closing offices, the Postal Service has sharply reduced its staff over the past several years and cut billions of dollars from its costs. It also has asked Congress to allow it to cut back delivery to five days a week and to ease the requirement for an annual $5.5 billion payment to fund future retiree health benefits.

No other federal agency is required to make such a payment, but because of the complex way federal finances work the payment counts as income to the government and ending it would make the federal deficit appear larger.

Of the 1,400 offices announced for review in January, 620 are still in the review process and 300 will move to the new review list.

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