Faced with the prospect of losing $10 billion this year, the U.S. Postal Service is looking at ways to streamline operations and cut costs.

     Faced with the prospect of losing $10 billion this year, the U.S. Postal Service is looking at ways to streamline operations and cut costs.
     And that could mean consolidating the Dodge City and Wichita post offices.
     The Postal Service announced last week that it would study the Dodge City post office with an eye toward consolidating operations with the Wichita mail-processing center. The study will begin right away and is expected to last three or four months.
     The study will focus on whether the Postal Service can boost efficiency and improve productivity by merging the Dodge and Wichita post offices, regional spokesman Brian Sperry said Monday.
     "This is only a feasibility study," he said. "No decision has been made, and it will have no effect on delivery and retail operations."
     Sperry said if the study finds ways to combine operations, the Postal Service will host a public meeting to explain any changes and their potential impact on mail delivery. The service will also seek public comments, which will be considered before officials make a final decision.
     The Postal Service will conduct similar studies in Colby, Hays, Hutchinson, Liberal, Salina and Topeka.
     Dodge City Postmaster Mario Saucedo referred a request for comment to Sperry.

Cutting costs
     A weak national economy and the rise of digital mail have dealt a double blow to the Postal Service, which is federally regulated but not supported by taxpayer dollars. Instead, the service relies on the sale of postage, products and services to finance operations.
But fewer people are using traditional mail, forcing the Postal Service to find ways to save money.
     The annual mail volume has dropped by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to fall, according to the Postal Service. Total first-class mail has dropped 25 percent, and single-piece first-class mail — bills and letters bearing postage stamps — has fallen by 36 percent.
     And the worst isn't over yet.
     Postal Service officials expect the volume of first-class mail will continue to drop by 50 percent over the next five years, Sperry said.
     To cope with the loss of business, the Postal Service has cut costs by $12 billion and eliminated 110,000 jobs over the past five years, according to the service. But despite those measures, the service lost $8.5 billion last year and expects to lose $10 billion in 2011.
     "So, The Postal Service is in a dire financial situation and must continue to take aggressive steps to reduce costs and operate more efficiently," Sperry said.
     The Postal Service's system is set up to deliver first-class mail within one to three days, depending on where the mail is sent and delivered. But officials have proposed changing that standard to two or three days, meaning customers would no longer receive mail overnight.
     Changing the standard would allow the Postal Service to revamp its network, prompting the service to review about 250 post offices nationwide — including Dodge City — for ways streamline operations.
     Officials say the changes would save up to $3 billion a year.
     Sperry said if the Postal Service decides to make changes to the Dodge City post office, officials will try to reassign employees to other available positions according to collective bargaining agreements. He added that the Dodge City post office has about 20 employees.

     Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or email him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.