If this wasn't serious business, we would be laughing out loud at a letter sent by the U.S. Postal Service to the city of Sioux City in which it asks for more than $830,000 for documents and materials the city wants.

In a letter sent by Stephen E. Martin, manager, Area Mail Processing and Facility Consolidation, Washington, D.C., to City Manager Paul Eckert and dated July 25, the USPS estimates the cost for "computer search time" to meet the city's request at $831,143.16 (discounted to $830,943.16 after "two hours of free computer search time" is deducted, thank you very much).

Here's one of our "favorite" line items in the letter, included under the heading "Computer Processing and Personnel Costs:" "System/database administrator time: $642,697 ($100/hour x 6,426.975 hours)."

$830,943.16?! 6,426.975 hours?!

Give us a break.

Some additional nuggets of outrage gleaned from the USPS letter: If USPS doesn't hear back from the city within 14 calendar days from July 25, it will "administratively close this request." If the city wants to pursue its full, original request for documents and materials, the USPS will need a year to process it.

In our view, this letter smacks of nothing less than additional USPS stonewalling of the kind we have witnessed since a new proposal to close Sioux City's Mail Distribution and Processing Center was raised earlier this year. At each turn in this process, efforts by the city to get more specific information on reasons for the planned closure have been met with a mixture of silence, vagueness and outright resistance. A city Freedom of Information Act request to see the feasibility study on which the closure decision was based was, in fact, first denied by the USPS.

Remember, too, the city learned of the decision to close the center on a day when local officials were consumed with the early stages of the Missouri River flood crisis, just a little more than a week after U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, met with the postmaster general on the subject.

From the beginning, the USPS attitude appears to have been: It isn't any of Sioux City's business why we plan to close its local mail center and eliminate its 100 jobs.

It seems clear to us the USPS strategy with the letter is to get the city to throw in the towel on its FOIA request for documents and materials by putting the cost for it at a ridiculously exorbitant level. The USPS correspondence represents Washington bureaucratic arrogance at its worst. The city was right to forward it on to Grassley, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

Let them turn up the heat ... and try to get the city's cost lowered to a reasonable amount.


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