USPS Reporting Getting Worse, GAO Finds

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The U.S. Postal Service is getting worse at meeting the reporting requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act, according to a report released earlier this month by the General Accounting Office.


Under the 1993 law, agencies submit annual performance plans that detail their goals. Agencies then report back to Congress on whether they met those goals.


The GAO was referring to the USPS' Fiscal Year 1999 Performance Report and its FY 2001 preliminary performance plan. The report and preliminary plan were issued earlier this year.


"Our assessment of the service's fiscal year 1999 performance report and its fiscal year 2001 preliminary performance plan are not as positive as our prior years' assessments of the service's efforts under GPRA," said the report, titled U.S. Postal Service: Enhancements Needed in Performance Planning and Reporting.


GAO officials said aspects of the USPS' 1999 performance report were "misleading." Only a thorough reading of the performance report reveals the most accurate information, the GAO report said. For example, the USPS' highlighted results for First-Class Mail could lead readers to mistakenly conclude that for FY 1999, the postal service exceeded its on-time delivery targets for both overnight and two- and three-day deliveries. Instead, for FY 1999, the USPS met, but did not exceed, its goal for on-time overnight deliveries of First-Class Mail but fell short of its goal for two- and three-day deliveries. The GAO report said, "This information, however, must be gleaned from the more detailed text of the report."


As for the USPS' 2001 preliminary performance plan, the GAO said:


• Several years' subgoals -- and their associated indicators and targets -- were not carried forward into the FY 2001 performance plan.


• The criteria the USPS used to measure its success toward achieving certain goals were unclear.


• Descriptions of strategies to accomplish certain results were incomplete.


• Information contained in prior years' plans was carried forward into the current year's plan without always being updated to reflect known or anticipated changes.


• Little or no explanation was given about why the plan lacked baseline data for some quantitative indicators, such as on-time delivery of advertising mail, change-of-address accuracy and consistency of delivery.


"Be straightforward and clear," the GAO recommended, urging the USPS to state results clearly so that they were not open to misinterpretation.


In commenting on a draft of this report earlier in September, the USPS generally agreed with the conclusions and planned to implement the suggestions in the final 2001 performance plan, which will be published Saturday.


The GAO, however, praised the agency for its efforts to present results, summarize its performance and acknowledge the importance of performance goals.
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