• on Apr 28th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 10 comments

    Given the U.S. Postal Service’s significant role in the nation’s founding, it’s probably not surprising that it owns a number of historic properties. But when the historic institution needs to modernize and optimize its network of postal facilities, how should it handle its historic properties? This has proved an especially volatile question for those citizens most directly affected. A property is eligible for historic status if it meets the National Register criteria, which involve the property’s age, integrity, and significance. That doesn’t mean the property can never be sold or renovated, just that the Postal Service must follow certain regulations to consider the effects of its actions and engage in a consultative process to resolve negative impacts. Complicating the matter, the Postal Service can't readily determine how many of the 9,000 properties it owns (in its portfolio of 32,000 properties managed) are historic. It sold 22 historic properties between October 2010 and June 2013. As of last summer, it had another 25 historic properties up for sale and was considering selling another 28.

    The sale or attempted sale of these properties has caused a firestorm of protest and resistance in some communities. Historic properties evoke strong emotions because the building or structure touches people in many ways. They are often seen as a connection with our past and a lesson for future generations. Combine these passions with the attachment that many people have to their local post offices, and it’s easy to see why the sale of historic post offices can be a lightning rod. Another factor is that some of these post offices were built during President Roosevelt’s New Deal and are decorated with murals and other artwork of the era. Citizens worry that they will lose access to the works of art inside.

    The Postal Service is an institution in a time of change. It faces significant financial challenges as it attempts to right-size its network so it has the optimal number of facilities for its current mail volume – an amount that has declined since 2007. Occasionally, it will dispose of a historic property as part of its network optimization goals. Our recent audit report reviewed the Postal Service’s management of the preservation and disposal of historic properties and we found numerous areas for improvement. Notably, the Postal Service did not know how many historic properties it owned or what it cost to preserve them. Also, it did not collaborate with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to improve its preservation regulations compliance.

    The Postal Service finds itself with competing obligations: Operating a less-expensive network to improve its financial footing versus the preservation of culture, history, and art. What do you think is the best solution? If it is to preserve these buildings, how should they be paid for?

  • on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Dec 23rd, 2013 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 1 comment

    Holiday mailings are as much a part of the American tradition as kids’ letters to Santa.

    We’ve talked a lot about the growth in packages, including those all-important holiday gifts. But the Postal Service is also doing its bit to make sure Big Red knows who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. As in years past, families with young “believers” have been taking advantage of the Postal Service offering that ensures letters from Santa have a North Pole postmark (so long as the request was made by December 10).

    Still others go to greater lengths to get in the spirit of the season. Each December holiday enthusiasts travel to the quiet town of Christmas, FL and visit its local post office, so their Christmas cards will be postmarked from Christmas itself. And for early planners, the Postal Service offers postmarks on letters and cards from other “Christmas-themed” towns, including Santa Claus, IN; Rudolph, OH; Antlers, ND; and any number of places called Bethlehem. Click here for the full list. 

    Whether you are mailing your holiday greetings and goodies from an exotic locale or putting them on the front stoop for your local carrier to pick up – Pushing the Envelope wishes you a wonderful holiday season and a very healthy and prosperous New Year.

    We also want to remind you to check back with us on Monday, January 6 when we will post our list of Top 10 Stories of the Year. As always, we welcome your feedback. 

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