GAO revisits postal IT center closing

"Employee Issues Associated with the Potential Closure of the San Mateo IT Center"

U.S. Postal Service employees at the San Mateo, Calif., Information Technology Center anticipate a loss in wages or possible family separations if the center is closed to save costs, according to a General Accounting Office report.

"San Mateo IT employees anticipate mostly negative social impacts if they relocate and mostly negative economic impacts if they stay in the Bay area," the report stated.

Before making the final decision to close the center, which employs 243 people, GAO urged the Postal Service to update the analyses on the closing to reflect changes in job availability in the three years since they were performed. The Postal Service should also consider helping union employees who choose not to relocate.

"In 2000, USPS' economic analyses included an assumption — and San Mateo employees believed — that local jobs would be available for those who did not want to relocate," the report said. "However, local postal jobs are no longer available, and nonpostal IT job opportunities have tightened considerably in the Bay area."

Closing the San Mateo IT center would save the Postal Service $74 million over the next 10 years, postal officials said.

In preparing its report, GAO administered questionnaires to employees displaced in the 1993 closing of the New York IT Center and to the San Mateo employees. Employees affected by the 1993 closure who stayed with the Postal Service in the New York area said their average salaries decreased by about 1 percent, while those who relocated to other Postal Service IT centers saw a 9 percent increase. However, those who relocated faced social difficulties in adjusting to a new area.

San Mateo employees anticipated similar experiences, but only 36 percent of respondents said they would likely relocate. The circumstances around the closing have changed since the employees were surveyed, such as the availability of local postal jobs or other IT opportunities in the area.

"At the time the employees completed our survey, the [Postal] Service anticipated that postal positions would be available in the Bay area for bargaining unit employees who did not want to relocate," the report said.

GAO recommended the Postal Service update its analyses of the closing, and consider offering job placement help to union employees who do not want to relocate and provide some help to working spouses of relocating employees.

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