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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, July 20, 2003

Report says 'low activity' post offices should close

By Randolph E. Schmid
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Some small-town post offices could be replaced by kiosks at a shopping mall or store under the vision of a commission assessing the future of the Postal Service.

"Low activity" post offices could be turned to more productive use — as community centers, town halls or businesses, the President's Commission on the United States Postal Service recommended last week.

The commission also called for giving the post office more freedom to set stamp prices, said it should concentrate on a core mission of delivering the mail and recommended a new corporate style board of directors.

But it rejected proposals to end the postal monopoly or privatize the agency.

If adopted by Congress and the president, the recommendations could affect virtually every American.

After years of congressional discussion of postal reform, and an effort in the agency to make what changes it can legally, President Bush in December formed the commission to study the agency and make recommendations.

The Post Office suffered a loss of $676 million last year and is hoping to end this year about $600 million in the black. But the agency, which does not receive taxpayer money for operations, has suffered a decline in mail volume two years in a row for the first time as it faces a weak economy, the terrorist attacks and increasing electronic commerce.

"One has to be really impressed with the depth and quality of the recommendations they have put together," Postal Chief Financial Officer Richard Strasser said after the session.

Many recommendations are similar to provisions in a bill sponsored by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., said McHugh's chief of staff, Robert Taub.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a statement that he is pleased that some of the recommendations closely mirror concepts that he developed with other members of Congress in a postal reform bill last year.

Neal Denton of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, a trade group, said he expected the report to get a warm reception in Congress.

"The Commission made it clear this morning that it wants to close post offices without regard to the impact on consumers or the local community," charged Bill Clay, chairman of the interest group Consumer Alliance for Postal Service.

The commission proposed an eight-member panel to recommend closings and consolidations of mail handling and distribution facilities and called on Congress to lift restrictions on closing local post offices.