Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister
For years, the United States Postal Service has published on its website information about the rent it pays for postal facilities across the nation.
The “Leased Facilities Report” became a valuable index that real estate brokers and others used to judge the value of business properties.
But no more.
As Steve Bahnsen of Chicago, who has collected U.S. mint single stamps for more than 50 years, recently discovered, the Postal Service has removed the rent paid information for its website.
When asked what happened Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly A. Frum told Linn’s that Postal Service officials have decided to stop making rental rates public.
She noted that Congress has given the Postal Service a “special” exemption under the Freedom of Information Act to protect “information of a commercial nature, including trade secrets, whether or not obtained from a person outside the Postal Service, which, under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed.”
“We have determined that most of the leasing information previously provided in the Report clearly falls within the scope of that exemption, because it is not good business practice to voluntarily disclose this information,” she said.
“Moreover, the FOIA does not require the Postal Service to create records, and hence does not require that we continue to voluntarily compile and publish this data in the report.”
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All this upsets Bahnsen, a former postal employee.
“This seems to fly in the face of ‘openness’ and ’transparency,’ ” he told Linn’s in an email.
“My initial reaction is how this suddenly became secret information after being public for years?” he asked.
Bahnsen called Frum’s reference to the business exemption “bogus” because “they have let the cat of the bag for so long.”
The Chicago collector said he loves to travel and photograph post offices. By his count, he has been to 12,000 in the lower 48 states.
“There is no pattern on how much one building is leased for versus another,” he said.
“It’s just interesting to see how the USPS spends our money,” he said.
“They spend thousands of dollars to lease unneeded space and then plead poverty when you ask them to secure a building so the lobby can be open all the time,” he said.
Bahnsen said he remains hopeful the Postal Service will make the rental information available via FOIA requests although that will be a much more complicated procedure than opening a file on the internet.
There are “many good employees at the Postal Service,” he said, adding “that place does not get any better as this new policy of withholding public information shows.”