Diffuse Security Threats:

USPS Air Filtration Systems Need More Testing and Cost Benefit Analysis before Implementation

GAO-02-838: Published: Aug 22, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 2002.

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Following the anthrax attacks of October 2001, the Unites States Postal Service (USPS) has started to look at various technologies that could be implemented in the event of another bioterror attack. The high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system is being used as a prototype at two facilities and is planned for implementation throughout the country. HEPA filtering technology is the state-of-the-art technology for the removal of particulate biohazards and other particles of micron-sized range. USPS has not adequately tested the HEPA filtration system to confirm that it will meet its intended purpose of trapping anthrax spores and its secondary purpose of cleaning the mail processing equipment. USPS's testing has not shown conclusively (1) the HEPA filtration system's ability to trap released hazards and other contaminants, and (2) what level of hazards or contaminants could be released into the mail processing environment as a result of the air filtration system's design. Furthermore, USPS has not verified through testing that the air filtration system will not interfere with the air sampling and detection equipment. Even though HEPA filtration systems could reduce the risk of exposure to biohazards, they may negate the benefits of other technologies being considered by USPS to protect its employees and customers in the event of another anthrax attack. Finally, the design and installation of the HEPA filtration system requires custom modification to USPS equipment nationwide and will likely cost more than USPS projected in its Emergency Preparedness Plan.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the draft of this report, USPS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations to continue testing the system to confirm its ability to trap anthrax spores and to test for interaction between the air filtration and detection systems. Furthermore, the Service noted that detailed site surveys would be performed at each P&DC/F as part of the deployment planning process to ensure that operation of these systems will not adversely affect the P&DC/F's power supply. USPS also commented that a Decision Analysis Report (DAR) is being prepared that will address both start-up costs to procure and deploy the equipment, as well as recurring costs such as increased electrical usage, maintenance support, spare parts, and training costs for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. In its comments, the Service stated that it plans to submit a DAR that must be reviewed and approved by senior management and voted on by USPS's Board of Governors prior to deployment. Finally, USPS agreed with GAO's recommendation that it review the prohibition on using compressed air to clean mail processing equipment after effective biohazard detection systems are in place.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USPS is making a sound investment, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Engineering to complete an investment analysis to prioritize USPS's plans to spend approximately $300 million to deploy the HEPA air filtration systems nationwide before determining whether to proceed with a large-scale rollout of air filtration systems at 300 USPS P&DC/Fs.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the draft of this report, USPS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations to continue testing the system to confirm its ability to trap anthrax spores and to test for interaction between the air filtration and detection systems. Furthermore, the Service noted that detailed site surveys would be performed at each P&DC/F as part of the deployment planning process to ensure that operation of these systems will not adversely affect the P&DC/F's power supply. USPS also commented that a Decision Analysis Report (DAR) is being prepared that will address both start-up costs to procure and deploy the equipment, as well as recurring costs such as increased electrical usage, maintenance support, spare parts, and training costs for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. In its comments, the Service stated that it plans to submit a DAR that must be reviewed and approved by senior management and voted on by USPS' Board of Governors prior to deployment. Finally, USPS agreed with GAO's recommendation that it review the prohibition on using compressed air to clean mail processing equipment after effective biohazard detection systems are in place.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USPS is making a sound investment, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Engineering to identify the effects of the HEPA filtration system's energy consumption on mail processing equipment performance and what could be done to mitigate this risk before determining whether to proceed with a large-scale rollout of air filtration systems at 300 USPS P&DC/Fs.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the draft of this report, USPS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations to continue testing the system to confirm its ability to trap anthrax spores and to test for interaction between the air filtration and detection systems. Furthermore, the Service noted that detailed site surveys would be performed at each P&DC/F as part of the deployment planning process to ensure that operation of these systems will not adversely affect the P&DC/F's power supply. USPS also commented that a Decision Analysis Report (DAR) is being prepared that will address both start-up costs to procure and deploy the equipment, as well as recurring costs such as increased electrical usage, maintenance support, spare parts, and training costs for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. In its comments, the Service stated that it plans to submit a DAR that must be reviewed and approved by senior management and voted on by USPS' Board of Governors prior to deployment. Finally, USPS agreed with GAO's recommendation that it review the prohibition on using compressed air to clean mail processing equipment after effective biohazard detection systems are in place.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USPS is making a sound investment, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Engineering to perform integrated tests with HEPA air filtration system and detection technologies being considered to determine whether the "dead zone" will impede the detection technology's performance before determining whether to proceed with a large-scale rollout of air filtration systems at 300 USPS P&DC/Fs.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the draft of this report, USPS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations to continue testing the system to confirm its ability to trap anthrax spores and to test for interaction between the air filtration and detection systems. Furthermore, the Service noted that detailed site surveys would be performed at each P&DC/F as part of the deployment planning process to ensure that operation of these systems will not adversely affect the P&DC/F power supply. USPS also commented that a Decision Analysis Report (DAR) is being prepared that will address both start-up costs to procure and deploy the equipment, as well as recurring costs such as increased electrical usage, maintenance support, spare parts, and training costs for HEPA air filtration systems. In its comments, the Service stated that it plans to submit a DAR that must be reviewed and approved by senior management and voted on by USPS's Board of Governors prior to deployment. Finally, USPS agreed with our recommendation that it review the prohibition on using compressed air to clean mail processing equipment after effective biohazard detection systems are in place.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USPS is making a sound investment, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Engineering to perform tests to determine (1) the HEPA air filtration system's ability to trap released hazards and other contaminants and (2) what level of hazards of contaminants could be released into the mail processing environment as a result of the air filtration system's design before determining whether to proceed with a large-scale rollout of air filtration systems at 300 USPS processing and distribution centers/facilities (P&DC/Fs).

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In commenting on the draft of this report, USPS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations to continue testing the system to confirm its ability to trap anthrax spores and to test for interaction between the air filtration and detection systems. Furthermore, the Service noted that detailed site surveys would be performed at each P&DC/F as part of the deployment planning process to ensure that operation of these systems will not adversely affect the P&DC/F's power supply. USPS also commented that a Decision Analysis Report (DAR) is being prepared that will address both start-up costs to procure and deploy the equipment, as well as recurring costs such as increased electrical usage, maintenance support, spare parts, and training costs for high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems. In its comments, the Service stated that it plans to submit a DAR that must be reviewed and approved by senior management and voted on by USPS's Board of Governors prior to deployment. Finally, USPS agreed with GAO's recommendation that it review the prohibition on using compressed air to clean mail processing equipment after effective biohazard detection systems are in place.

    Recommendation: To ensure that USPS is making a sound investment, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Engineering to analyze alternative solutions, including whether maintenance costs can be reduced by using compressed air for cleaning mail processing equipment after implementing a suitable detection technology before determining whether to proceed with a large-scale rollout of air filtration systems at 300 USPS P&DC/Fs.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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