GAO Says USPS Delivery Standards, Reporting Need Improvement

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While the U.S. Postal Service has delivery standards for its major types of mail, some have not been updated in a number of years to reflect changes in how mail is prepared and delivered.

This was a key point from a report issued by the Government Accountability Office on July 27.

The GAO issued the report at the request of Susan Collins, R-ME, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Tom Carper, D-DE.

The GAO was asked to assess the USPS's delivery performance standards for timely mail delivery. The GAO was also asked to examine delivery performance information that USPS collects and reports on timely mail delivery, and progress made to improve delivery performance information.

Delivery performance standards and results -- which are central to the agency's mission of providing universal postal service -- have been a long-standing concern for mailers and Congress. Standards are essential to set realistic expectations for delivery performance and organize activities accordingly. Timely and reliable reporting of results is also essential for management, over-sight, and accountability purposes.

According to the report, the USPS' outdated standards are "unsuitable as benchmarks for setting realistic expectations for timely mail delivery, measuring delivery performance, or improving service, oversight, and accountability."

In commenting on a draft of the report, USPS disagreed that its standards are outdated and detailed its vision to improve service measures and transparency.

While the report said the USPS plans corrective action to update some standards, " some delivery standards are not easily accessible, which impedes mailers from obtaining information to make informed decisions."

For example, the report said USPS does not measure and disclose its delivery performance for most types of mail. Therefore, transparency with regard to its overall performance in timely mail delivery is limited. Representative measures cover less than one-fifth of mail volume and do not include Standard Mail, bulk First-Class Mail, periodicals and most package services.

In addition, despite recent disclosures on its Web site, USPS' reporting is more limited than the scope of measurement, the report said.

"Without sufficient transparency, it is difficult for USPS and its customers to identify and address delivery problems, and for Congress, the Postal Rate Commission, and others to hold management accountable for results and conduct independent oversight," the report said.

The report added that USPS' progress to improve delivery performance information has been slow and inadequate despite numerous USPS and mailer efforts.

The report also said that impediments to progress include: USPS's lack of continued management commitment and follow through on recommendations made by joint USPS/mailer committees; technology limitations; data quality deficiencies; limited mailer participation in providing needed performance data; and costs. In addition, the report said that while the USPS "has initiatives to improve service and better track mail through its mail processing system, [it] has no current plans to implement and report on additional representative measures of delivery performance. USPS's leadership and effective collaboration with mailers is critical to implementing a complete set of delivery performance measures."

The GAO recommended that USPS take actions to modernize its delivery standards, implement delivery performance measures for major types of mail by providing clear commitment and more effective collaboration, and improve the transparency of delivery performance standards, measures and results.

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