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Americans have had to adjust to mail deliveries that take a day longer than they did several years ago. News this week from the USPS inspector general confirms what many customers have suspected: Lots of mail doesn’t meet even the new, slower “normal” delivery deadlines.

The Office of Inspector General audited eight postal distribution centers earlier this year and documented that hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail weren’t delivered in a timely fashion. Worse yet, some of the distribution centers vastly underreported the problems in daily logs.

Montana complaints

No Montana mail center was included in that OIG audit conducted earlier this year. But separately, U.S. senators have heard complaints that mail is being delayed because some USPS employees aren’t doing their jobs. Back in March, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, wrote to the USPS inspector general about constituent concerns that postal management delayed mail, falsified parcel and Post Office box scans, manipulated employee time and attendance system data and swiped employee time cards without their knowledge.

In July, the OIG notified Tester that its investigation had substantiated most of those complaints. One of four problem employees identified during the investigation retired and the OIG reported its findings to the Postal Service for further action.

Just this month the OIG released a report saying that the Postal Service “was not accurately reporting delayed mail.” Five of eight processing and distribution centers audited did not accurately count on-hand delayed mail during the audit.

“This occurred because employees were not properly supervised and trained in counting and reporting delayed mail,” the OIG report said.

On another measure of efficiency, the eight centers were found to have about 1.8 million pieces of late-arriving mail in the week audited, yet only reported 121,000 pieces as arriving late. If all 250 postal processing centers in the nation performed at that rate, USPS would be underreporting delays by 2 billion pieces of mail per year, according to the OIG.

USPS management responded to the OIG’s recommendations for improving its accountability by saying that initiatives were already underway to implement a new data-driven system for counting late mail.

In a letter sent to Postmaster General Megan Brennan this week, Tester blasted the failures cited in the OIG report and confirmed in the investigation of his earlier Montana-based complaints.

“To be clear, any employee who deliberately delayed mail delivery or who knowingly misreported mail delivery should be terminated,” Tester wrote.

The OIG report didn’t allege deliberate misrepresentation, but it’s hard to understand how honest mistakes would result in undercounting of this magnitude.

Misinformed decisions

There are many hardworking and conscientious USPS employees. Their jobs are more difficult if management doesn’t have good information about mail delivery. As the OIG reported: “When mail condition reports are not accurate, management uses incorrect information to make decisions on staffing, mail processing equipment use, preventative maintenance and the transportation of mail.” In other words, USPS needs good information to do the job its customers expect.

Congress has at times interfered with the USPS to the detriment of this vital delivery service. The Postal Service is saddled with the cost of prefunding future employee benefits, a mandate no other government agency has. Because USPS doesn’t receive tax revenue, it has to cover its costs by raising postage charges and cutting expenses, which has led to much slower, less convenient service — especially in some rural areas.

USPS is hurting itself by failing to instill confidence in its own data tracking systems.

We agree with Tester: Any employees who intentionally slow the mail should be fired and replaced with workers who have incentives and work ethics to get mail delivered on time.

-- The Billings Gazette

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