Instead of closing hundreds of rural post offices, the U.S. Postal Service now plans a partial approach to closings.
The plan calls for keeping thousands of rural post offices open two, four or six hours hours a day. These post offices would become stations, which could be staffed by a part-time postmaster. Or, perhaps use one postmaster to staff several stations, but that's not in the official plan.
"The plan would keep the existing post office in place, but with modified retail window hours to match customer use," the Postal Service stated. "Access to the retail lobby and to PO boxes would remain unchanged."
The new plan would use a two-year multi-phase approach. But the Postal Regulatory Commission is to review the plan and can make changes before it can be implemented.
Critics of the plan fear staffing a station fewer hours, with less-experienced personnel, would drive away customers. That may be an accurate prediction - particularly if processing plants are closed and Saturday delivery is eliminated.
Yet to debate the merits of the plan might be futile. The Postal Service estimates the plan would save $500 million annually. But that's less than 10 percent of the service's losses for 2011.
Ultimately, decisions need to be made. The service is an independent agency of the federal government. To cover its losses, it receives government loans. If the service can't attract more business and make more money, it must cut costs. If the government doesn't drop the demand to pre-fund retiree health benefits, health and retirement benefits as well as wages would have to be reduced.
Another recourse would be to reverse course, revive the Post Office Department, and retain operations with federal subsidies.
But with a national debt of $15 trillion, and annual budget deficits running about $1 trillion, that's not a viable option.