BERKELEY -- An agency that oversees preservation of federally owned historic property took the United States Postal Service to task Thursday, noting "significant concerns" resulting from sales of historic post offices, including the one in Berkeley.

In a report to Congress, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation states its concerns arise not just from the closure of the facilities but also with what it calls a lack of transparency in the decision-making and consulting process mandated under the National Historic Preservation Act.

The council is an independent federal agency that advises the president and Congress on national historic preservation policy.

The report calls on the postal service to suspend disposal of historic post offices and relocation of postal services out of historic facilities until it implements the council's recommendations.

The council report came in response to congressional calls for investigation into USPS compliance with historic preservation mandates in its sale of historic post offices.

The report was welcomed by Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association and founding member of Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office.

"What the report makes clear is that (the Postal Service) is not following the rules they should be following," Smith said.

While the council has no regulatory authority over the postal service, Smith called it a "prestigious" and nonpartisan panel that might be able to sway Congress, which has the authority to require USPS compliance with the recommendations.

One problem the report noted was the postal service did not look at alternatives to sales, such as leasing properties.

The council further criticized USPS for not using "alternative property disposal systems."

Currently, USPS has charged the giant real estate firm CBRE with marketing historic post offices. Richard Blum, a UC Berkeley trustee and spouse of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, is the firm's chairman.

The report says it would be preferable to market the properties through the General Services Administration's Office of Real Property Disposal, which can assist with "marketing and sale of federal real estate at a cost lower than commercial vendors."

The report also questioned the covenants the postal service requires in some sales. The covenants are intended to preserve the historic buildings and artwork. One such covenant allowed its termination for "good cause" and others did not extend the covenants into perpetuity, the report noted.

Calling historic post offices "an integral part of our cultural heritage," Rep. Barbara Lee D-Oakland, issued a statement Thursday urging the USPS "to strongly consider the recommendations presented in today's report issued to Congress."

"We should not allow the wholesale liquidation of our national historic treasures," Lee said. "Historic post offices, like the Berkeley Post Office, are an irreplaceable part of our nation's history. Historic post office buildings are an integral part of our cultural heritage and should not be used as a bargaining chip in resolving the Postal Service's financial woes."

The ACHP report is available at www.achp.gov.