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Money-losing post offices face closure under new plan

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Money-losing post offices, many in small towns, could be closed under the recommendations of a presidential commission that sees a better future for mail services offered in shopping malls, banks and grocery stores.

The commission also wants more freedom for the post office to change rates. It rejects the idea of making it a private company.

The final report of the President’s Commission on the United States Postal Service, formed by President Bush to study the agency and make recommendations for its future, is scheduled by the end of the month.

The commission began voting on its recommendations Wednesday, approving several that could have far-reaching impact on virtually all Americans if accepted by Congress and the president.

Likely to generate controversy is a proposal to create a special commission to study the postal network and recommend closings and consolidations of offices.

“You don’t necessarily need post offices, you need postal services delivered in the most convenient way,” said commission co-chairman Henry J. Pearce, chairman of Hughes Electronics Corporation.

Kiosks offering a wide range of mail services are being opened in shopping malls, Pearce noted, and postal services can also be made available in grocery stores, banks and other locations.

In many communities the post office owns valuable, centrally located real estate that could be sold to raise income, the commission noted. In other towns, where the post office has been a center of activity, the agency might donate the facility to the local government for use as a community center or town hall.

The commission wants to see maximum local input in the final decision on each office, commented co-chairman James A. Johnson, vice chairman of the merchant banking firm Perseus, L.L.C.

With some 35,000 offices across the country the Postal Service has long sought to close offices it considers unnecessary, but has often been thwarted by Congress when communities complained that keeping their post offices was vital even if they did lose money.

With that in mind, the commission recommended that when a set of national recommendations is prepared for closings and consolidations, it take effect unless rejected in its entirety by Congress within 45 days.

Many of the recommendations from the commission are similar to provisions in a bill sponsored by Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., said McHugh’s chief of staff, Robert Taub. Things that were not in the bill, such as the facilities closings, will also be given a close look, Taub said.