USPS Rapped on Performance Reporting

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

The Government Accountability Office made this point July 27 in a report requested by Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-DE, the committee's ranking minority member.

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

The report found USPS standards "unsuitable as benchmarks for setting realistic expectations for timely mail delivery, measuring delivery performance or improving service, oversight and accountability." Such standards and results are central to providing universal service and for management, oversight and accountability.

The USPS plans to update some standards, the report said, but "some delivery standards are not easily accessible, which impedes mailers from obtaining information to make informed decisions." The report noted that the USPS does not measure and disclose delivery performance for most mail types. Representative measures do not cover Standard, bulk First Class, Periodicals and most package services.

"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 cited as impediments to progress:

· Lack of continued USPS management commitment on recommendations from joint USPS/mailer committees.

· Technology limitations.

· Data quality deficiencies.

· Limited mailer participation in providing needed performance data.

· Costs.

The GAO recommended that Postmaster General John E. Potter take these actions:

· Modernize delivery standards for all major types of mail so that they reflect USPS operations and can be used as benchmarks for understanding and measuring delivery performance.

· Provide a clear commitment in the USPS Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations to develop a complete set of delivery performance measures for each major mail type.

· Implement representative delivery performance measures for all major mail types by improving collaboration with mailers and others to ensure effective working relationships, accountability and results.

· Improve the transparency of delivery performance standards, measures and results by disclosing more information publicly, including in its annual performance reports to Congress as well as providing easily accessible information on its Web site.

The USPS disagreed that its standards are outdated and detailed its vision to improve service measures and transparency. In a letter to the GAO commenting on a draft of the report, Mr. Potter said that " ... the core issue is service ... and according to all indicators, we are succeeding in our goal of continuous service improvement. We are not content with maintaining the status quo."

In terms of service, the agency has implemented a "balanced scorecard" that bases 40 percent of organizational success on achieving defined service performance metrics, supporting personal and unit accountability, he said.

Mr. Potter also said that visibility must extend through the entire mail value chain and that the USPS intends to lead this effort via technological solutions such as the four-state customer barcode and enhancements to bulk mail acceptance systems.

He added that "our experience has demonstrated that it is particularly difficult to design a broad and effective measurement system for Standard and Periodicals mail. Our previous attempts were unsuccessful for several reasons. Standard Mail lacks a postmark or other reliable measure of acceptance into our system. Also, a single Standard mailing can be entered at multiple facilities, presort levels, container levels and on different days. These same complexities exist for Periodicals Mail, a situation compounded by various publication frequencies, ranging from daily, with same-day delivery, to quarterlies."

Mr. Potter took issue with the notion of USPS service standards as outdated.

"For over three decades, we have established, monitored and refined our standards, as appropriate, based on operational changes," he said. "The fact that some standards have remained consistent over time cannot and should not be interpreted to mean those standards have not been reviewed or that they are outdated. Rather, it means we have determined that they still work for the mailers and the postal service."

The report, "U.S. Postal Service: Delivery Performance Standards, Measurement and Reporting Need Improvement," is available at www.gao.gov.

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