Senator Carper Addresses U.S. Postal Service at Public Hearing on Future of Hares Corner Processing Facility

WILMINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Postal Service, addressed the United States Postal Service at its public hearing on the feasibility study for Delaware’s processing facility at Hare’s Corner. The public hearing was held at the New Castle School, 903 Delaware Street, New Castle, Del.

A copy of Sen. Carper’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follows:

“I’d like to begin my remarks this evening with some thank you’s.

“First, let me thank the Postal leadership for providing our congressional delegation, other elected and appointed officials and our other guests an opportunity to react to the study that’s been conducted and outlined here tonight, as well as to ask questions and to make recommendations of our own.

“Second, let me thank the folks at the New Castle School for allowing us to gather here in their auditorium so that we might participate in this public meeting.

“Third, let me thank everyone who has joined us this evening for attending and participating in this important and unique meeting.

“I realize that many of us assembled here disagree – some strongly – with the Postal Service’s study and recommendations. Given the excellent reputation that the Hare’s Corner facility and its workforce have enjoyed for years, that’s more than understandable. Having said that, though, I want to remind everyone here that this is Delaware. This is not some other state. While I fully understand that passions are high, I hope that all of us will be respectful of the views of others and focus our energy and efforts not just on criticizing the Postal Service’s study but on coming together around a better idea than the one presented to us this evening in the AMP study. An idea that’s better for the Postal Service’s business and residential customers, better for its employees and better for American taxpayers.

“As we begin this dialogue tonight, I’d ask us to keep in mind the following facts: The U.S. is emerging from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression; Our economy has begun to grow again, but not yet with the vigor we need; however, even when the economy kicks into high gear, first class mail volumes are unlikely to return to pre-recession levels; After peaking at nearly $1.5 trillion, our nation’s budget deficit is expected to drop to below $1 trillion this year, but continue to remain at historically high levels for the foreseeable future; The USPS is contributing to that deficit, having exhausted its $15 billion line of credit to the U.S. Treasury. By the end of this summer, the Postal Service will run out of cash and face the prospect of shutting down. Should the Congress elect to bail out the USPS later this year without making significant reforms, the Postal Service is expected to add another $200 billion to the federal deficit during this decade;

“Friends, I’d suggest to all of us tonight that with federal budget deficits still at historically high levels, we need to look at everything that the federal government does and ask, “How can we get better results for less money?” And, I would add that we need to ask the same question with respect to the US Postal Service. How do we get better results with less money at the USPS while encouraging the Postal Service to become more entrepreneurial in order to start growing revenues again? I know there are some in the U.S. who, frankly, are ready to give up on the U.S. Postal Service. Pull the plug. Let it go. I couldn’t disagree more.

“The situation that the U.S. Postal Service faces is dire, but it’s not hopeless. This is a problem we can fix. I believe that giving up on the Postal Service in the 21st Century would be a big mistake, just like giving up on the U.S. auto industry a couple of years ago would have been a big mistake. While the way we communicate in the U.S. has changed, there’s still a need for a vibrant and efficient USPS, and there will be for as long as any of us is likely to be around and well beyond that.

“As many of you know, some seven million jobs in the U.S. today depend directly or indirectly on the Postal Service. The last thing we need as the economy is beginning to recover is to put those jobs at risk or, worse yet, out of existence.

“To make sure that doesn’t happen, the Postal Service has proposed taking a number of steps. Some are controversial; others are not. The proposals include making Medicare the primary provider of health care for Postal retirees and supplementing that coverage with a medigap-like plan provided by the Postal Service.

“Other options include withdrawing Postal employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan and creating a stand-alone health care plan for postal employees, retirees and their families; reducing mail delivery from six to five days a week; revising service delivery standards from 1-3 days to 2-3 days in most instances; recovering a $10 billion overpayment to the Federal Employees Retirement System and using roughly a portion of it to incentivize some 50,000 pension-eligible Postal employees to retire over the next few years; allowing the Postal Service greater flexibility to offer new products and services; overhauling workers compensation; consolidating or closing one out of ten post offices or co-locating them in other businesses like supermarkets, convenience stores or pharmacies; And, finally, reducing the number of mail processing centers across the country from 500 to 250 through consolidation.

“Some of these steps require congressional approval to go forward. Others do not. I am a cosponsor of bipartisan, comprehensive legislation awaiting floor action in the U.S. Senate that – among other things – allowing the U.S. Postal Service to act more like a real corporation. It’s markedly different from the House bill introduced by Rep. Darryl Issa. That legislation takes a different approach by establishing a BRAC-like process for closing post offices and processing centers, moving swiftly from six day to five day delivery, creating something called a control board that would be given broad powers to step in and run the Postal Service, possibly abrogating labor contracts in the process, something I do not favor.

“The purpose of tonight’s public meeting is to learn more about the AMP study, proposed by Postal leaders in our three-state district. As you know, it would reduce from four to two the number of mail processing centers in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and northern Delaware. The mail processing now done by the center in southeastern Pennsylvania near King of Prussia would be done at the much larger center near the Philadelphia International Airport. Most of the processing done by the center at Hare’s Corner would move to the larger center in Bellmawr, NJ.

“A few days before this past Christmas, our congressional delegation learned that the Postal Service had decided to move forward with this proposal and hold this public hearing in New Castle on January 4. We objected, stating the a hearing on that date provided too little time for any of us to adequately analyze the proposal, obtain answers to questions about it and develop alternatives to the proposal. The Postal Service came back with an alternative date of January 12. Again, we objected for the same reasons, before finally agreeing to hold the public forum tonight.

“Over the past several weeks, Delaware’s congressional delegation and the members of our staff have worked closely together to drill down on the district’s consolidation proposal and develop alternatives to it. Teams from our offices have visited Postal processing centers at Hare’s Corner, Bellmawr, NJ and Easton, Maryland. We have met with and consulted with scores of business and residential customers of the Hare’s Corner facility. We have met with hundreds of Postal employees in Delaware and hosted a traditional town hall meeting last night for hundreds of Postal employees and a tele-town hall meeting last week in which over 3,500 Delawareans participated. We have met and consulted with postal labor leaders, as well as with state and local officials, including Governor Jack Markell and members of his cabinet. We have submitted a number of questions in writing to the Postal Service about the AMP study and sought to obtain a copy of it. And, we have shared our concerns – your concerns – with the Postmaster General, the Deputy Postmaster General and with members of the Postal Board of Governors.

Well, what have we learned from all of these actions? Here’s a sampling.

“We have learned that the processing centers in New Castle, Bellmawr and Southeastern Pennsylvania, all fall within a 40 mile radius of the much larger center adjacent to the Philadelphia Airport. We have learned that the space for processing mail at the airport site is larger than the other three sites combined and, of the four, Hares Corner is the smallest. We have learned how the processing operation is done and how these four centers interact with each other, with customers and with the rest of the Postal system. We have learned how the AMP study, if implemented, could affect major business customers of the Postal Service here in Delaware. We have learned that apparently no option was considered in this study that would have preserved mail processing activities at Hares Corner. We have learned that only one other state besides Delaware appears to be in jeopardy of losing its only mail processing center. That state is Vermont. We have learned that the consolidation of the Frederick, Maryland mail processing center into Baltimore’s last year led to major logjams in the Baltimore facility in recent months as a result of that consolidation. We have learned that the Postal Service has proposed to begin processing in its Baltimore center the mail currently processed at the Easton, Md. processing center, mail that emanates from all over the Eastern Shore of Maryland, except for Cecil County whose mail is already processed in Baltimore. We have learned that the State of Delaware plans to move ahead with a major highway project that eventually will turn Rt. 301 in Delaware into a four-lane, limited access highway from the Maryland line to I-95 in Delaware, expediting the flow of traffic from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to I-95. We have been reminded that ready access to a first-rate mail processing center was a key factor in Delaware becoming the home of many major financial institutions and that losing our center also means losing our competitive advantage in attracting and retaining those institutions to other states. And, we have learned that – unlike our initial understanding – the migration of the Hare’s Corner processing center to Bellmawr will not result in the loss of 200 jobs there. It will result in the loss of 80 percent of the 500 jobs there, and those 100 jobs are unlikely to remain at Hare’s Corner far into the future, leaving the facility empty and very likely for sale.

“Suffice it to say, we’ve learned a lot in a relatively short time. Given all that we’ve learned in the past several weeks, a fair question might be, “What should we do now with the knowledge we’ve gained?”

“Fair questions deserve thoughtful answers, and this would be my answer. I think that if we believe that a particular course of action by the Postal Front may not be the best course, we have an obligation to propose another course that hopefully makes more sense. It’s not enough for us in Delaware to say, “We know that the Postal Service is losing money hand over fist, and that it needs to right-size and modernize for the 21st Century, but you can forget about trying to close any of our post offices or our only mail processing center.” From the time my training began as a 17-year-old Navy midshipman, I was taught that the best form of leadership is leadership by example. We lead best by setting the right example.

If we believe that the course of action favored by the district Postal leadership doesn’t make sense — either with respect to dollars and sense or with respect to operational efficiency and productivity – we have an obligation to offer an alternative or a “third way,” if you will.

“We need to do our homework and come forth with what we feel is a better course of action. Here it is. Instead of closing the mail processing center at Easton and diverting that work to what sounds at times like an overwhelmed processing center in Baltimore, send it to Hare’s Corner for processing.

“Instead of sending the outgoing mail from Cecil County to an already overworked Baltimore center, send it to Hare’s Corner, as well. We’d also suggest that serious consideration be given to sending mail from some of the zip codes in Pa. along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border be sent – not to the center at the Philadelphia Airport – but to Hare’s Corner.

“I’ll close with this thought. My dad used to say to my sister and me when we were kids growing up and would pull some bone-headed stunt, “Just use some common sense.” He was a chief petty officer in the Navy and as tough as nails, and he didn’t say it that nicely. He did say it a lot, though, so we must not have had much common sense in those days. But over the years, what he was trying to teach us actually sunk in, and I try to apply his advice every day of my life. He would also say to us when we had chores to do and didn’t do them well, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” He said that a lot, too. As an adult, I know that everything I do, I can do better. The same is true of most of us. It’s true for businesses large and small, for governments and – yes – for the Postal Service.

“We believe there’s a better way to rationalize and organize the processing of mail in our region than is recommended in the AMP study. We believe it will enable the Postal Service to save money and enhance the efficiency of the processing of mail and the productivity of the Postal Service’s employees. I also believe that my dad looking down from above might even say, ‘Thank God he’s finally using some common sense.'”