By MARK MILLER
WASHINGTON (February 24, 2012)—Sen. Ben Cardin criticized proposed cuts to mail processing facilities announced by the United States Postal Service this week, two of which could see Maryland facilities consolidated with others outside the state.
The cuts, as described by USPS spokeswoman Freda Sauter in an email, would see the mail processing center in Cumberland consolidated with a Johnstown, Pa., facility, and the Suburban Annex facility in Gaithersburg shut down and its operations diverted to the Southern Maryland Capital Beltway Facility in Capitol Heights.
All told, the proposed Maryland changes could affect almost 150 workers.
Cardin said he opposes the Cumberland plant closure, but he reserved his harshest criticism for a plan Sauter said remains under study to move operations from the Eastern Shore Processing and Distribution Facility in Easton to a plant in Wilmington, Del.
"The most egregious is what they did in Easton," said Cardin of the cuts. Originally, he said, the USPS planned to consolidate the Easton facility with a mail processing center in Baltimore, but it changed course on the proposal to study a Wilmington merger without consulting him.
"We're not sure what they're doing," Cardin added.
But Sauter said the USPS has not yet decided to close the Easton plant, and it is not expected to make a decision until the middle of the year.
"No decision has been made to move the operations to the Delaware plant," Sauter cautioned in the email. "A new study will be conducted. The study will begin immediately. Typically ... studies can take anywhere from 3-5 months to complete."
The deficit-strapped USPS released a plan Thursday calling for cuts to more than 220 mail processing facilities nationwide, a strategy Cardin called "short-sighted" and predicted would lead to a further decline in fortunes for the agency.
"Closing the processing centers will almost guarantee that we won't be able to get mail delivered on the next day," said Cardin, who added that rapid mail delivery is expected by businesses shipping within their local areas. "By making these cuts, it will reduce the service levels on mail delivery and package delivery, and as a result, there will be fewer customers that will use their services."
In her email, Sauter acknowledged the potential pain of the cuts.
"It's important to remember that these are very difficult times, and difficult decisions have to be made," Sauter wrote.
In addition to the Cumberland, Gaithersburg and Easton facilities, mail processing machines at the Waldorf Post Office will be moved to Capitol Heights as well under the USPS' latest proposal.
In total, Sauter wrote, up to 18 employees could be affected by the Waldorf move, in addition to 30 employees projected to be laid off by the Cumberland consolidation and nearly 100 from the Gaithersburg merger. The number of employees that would be affected by an Easton plant closure is currently unknown, she added.
Last fall, a mail processing facility in Frederick closed and its operations were rolled into other Maryland sites.