By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
In what one commentator has called "an early sign of enlightened leadership" by new Postmaster General Megan Brennan, the United States Postal Service has halted plans to close upwards of 82 mail processing plants this year.
The change comes after large-scale mailers began complaining of poor service and continued complaints from lawmakers from rural states who say service in their areas is worsening.
Some of the delays had been announced locally, but the National Postal Mail Handlers Union said May 22 that postal officials had decided to delay all 2015 planned plant closings except for Houston and Queens, N.Y.
In a statement issued May 27, the USPS confirmed it would "defer most of the plant consolidations that were scheduled to take place this summer."
The statement said the action was "based upon operational consideration and was made to ensure that the Postal Service will continue to provide prompt, reliable and predictable service consistent with the published service standards."
It also said the closings would be resumed in 2016.
The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers hailed the delay, saying it showed the new postal chief executive "understands that the long-term value of the core mail service is at least if not more important than near-term cost savings."
The USPS had planned to consolidate 82 processing plants this year, in the second phase of a "network rationalization" that could save the deficit-ridden agency an estimated $750 million a year.
The Alliance said in a report to its members that the change followed "a major drop-off in mail delivery service performance in early 2015 that was attributed to a massive change in mail processing scheduling implemented nationwide on January 5, as well as extreme winter weather."
It also noted that Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who has been a leader among senators from rural states, praised the decision.
"These delays provide us more time to reform the Postal Service and improve delivery standards," Tester said. "I hope deferring further processing plant closures remains permanent because maintaining the standard of delivery depends on it."