USPS Ends Area Mail Processing Studies

On August 15, the Postal Service announced that it will end the 57 area mail processing studies that remain incomplete; a list of the facilities involved was not published.  Like all the others going back to 2011 (or earlier), the AMP studies were started to assess which facilities could be consolidated and/or closed to align the processing network to current volume and service commitments.

Given that a major component of the Postmaster General’s 10-year Plan is to fully rework the agency’s processing, transportation, and delivery infrastructure, the unfinished studies were overtaken by the larger effort.

The PMG has previously stated that the final network configuration could include 65 to 75 major “regional distribution centers” serving smaller local distribution facilities and, in turn, about 11,000 “sort and delivery centers” from which carriers would serve their routes.

Complexity

Though the easy assumption is that the AMP process – and the nascent network redesign project – evaluate a homogeneous network of facilities (e.g., processing and distribution centers, P&DCs) – the actual universe being analyzed includes a range of processing centers as well as annexes and special-purpose operations like airport mail facilities, surface transfer centers, and network distribution centers.

Moreover, the nature of the studies was not always to close a facility; some involved moving only originating or destinating distribution, or only processing a single category of mail, like flats or parcels.  Even after some or all mail processing was removed, the building commonly was retained for retail, delivery, or cross-dock operations; only a handful of processing centers were fully shuttered.

Adding a degree of ambiguity, the baseline for the AMP process was never firm; the USPS never issued a concise starting inventory, including annexes and other miscellaneous facilities.  From data developed at that time, the total was about 530 facilities, including about 420 processing centers.  At one time or another, over 300 facilities were either candidates for an AMP study or actually under evaluation, and 195 were wholly or partially consolidated.

However, both the AMP process and the network itself were always fluid, with facilities being moved onto or off the study list, having consolidations or closures re-evaluated or never implemented, or having new annexes opened based on volume, to handle pallets or parcels, for example.  A facility listing provided to the American Postal Workers Union by the Postal Service in 2020 still showed 491 facilities of one type or another, illustrating that the true reduction of total facilities may have been less than might have been planned, or that the starting universe was larger than was thought.

Politics

Regardless, from its start, the AMP process was the subject of frequent meddling by politicians keen to win the support of unionized workers at plants being evaluated.  As a result, facilities that were initially identified for study, or for closure or consolidation, were removed from the list, or left in operation, despite valid operational findings that supported a different result.

In that regard, things are the same now as in 2011: the union and politicians remain aligned in their interest in protecting jobs; the APWU already has protested the possible elimination of 50,000 jobs recently mentioned by the PMG.  Such resistance is not likely to disappear should the major network changes contemplated in the 10-year Plan start to be implemented.

While commercial mail producers and their ratepaying customers might initially believe the rearrangement of processing and delivery facilities is a strictly internal postal matter of no concern to them, they should rethink that conclusion.  The new network design is supposed to improve service and reduce costs – two issues that do matter – so monitoring the Postal Service’s implementation of its new network deserves attention accordingly.

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