With strong bipartisan support, a Senate panel today passed a measure to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from closing rural post offices until it establishes clear criteria for determining whether a post office should be closed, and fully considers alternative ways to save money, such as shortening hours of operation and relocating post offices to other places of business.

Tester, a member of the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, added his provision to the 21st Century Postal Service Act. The legislation is aimed at preserving the Postal Service, which is struggling to make ends meet.

“Montanans have made it clear to me that they depend on their community post offices for reliable mail service, and I won’t let the Postal Service ignore their voices,” Tester said.

Tester’s provision is cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan. The measure also requires the Postal Service to reexamine any post office closings made before the bill becomes law.

Tester has been a vocal critic of the Postal Service’s proposal to close 85 rural post offices in Montana.

The amendment gives the Postal Service six months to develop new criteria, which must include considerations of distance to other post offices and whether other alternatives can be found. After the criteria are developed, the Postal Service must reconsider each post office that is still being considered for closure.

Tester also pushed to hold the Postmaster General more accountable for the Postal Service’s actions.

In Fiscal Year 2010, the Postmaster General received $800,000 in total compensation, including over $270,000 in salary and bonuses, despite the fact that the Postal Service lost $8.5 billion in 2010 and has shed nearly 20 percent of its workforce since 2006.

The 21st Century Postal Service Act now awaits a vote by the full Senate.