Operation Iraqi Freedom:

Long-standing Problems Hampering Mail Delivery Need to Be Resolved

GAO-04-484: Published: Apr 14, 2004. Publicly Released: Apr 14, 2004.

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Mail is a morale booster for troops fighting overseas and for their families at home. More than 65 million pounds of letters and parcels were delivered to troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and problems with prompt and reliable mail delivery surfaced early in the conflict. Congress and the White House forwarded more than 300 inquiries about mail delivery problems to military postal officials. GAO was directed to review mail delivery to troops stationed in the Middle East. In this report, GAO assesses (1) the timeliness of mail delivery to and from troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom, (2) how mail delivery issues and problems during this operation compared with those experienced during Operations Desert Shield/Storm in 1991, and (3) efforts to identify actions to resolve problems in establishing mail operations for future contingencies.

The timeliness of mail delivery to troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom cannot be accurately assessed because the Department of Defense (DOD) does not have a reliable, accurate system in place to measure timeliness. In general, DOD's transit time and test letter data show that mail delivery fell within the current wartime standard of 12 to 18 days. However, the methodology used to calculate transit times significantly understated actual delivery times. In the absence of reliable data, GAO conducted discussion groups with a non-representative sample of 127 service members who served in-theater. More than half reported they were dissatisfied with mail delivery, underscoring the negative impact it can have on troop morale. Despite differences in operational theaters and efforts by DOD postal planners to incorporate Operations Desert Shield/Storm experiences into planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom, postal operations faced many of the same problems: difficulty with conducting joint-service mail operations; postal personnel who were inadequately trained and initially scarce owing to late deployments; and inadequate postal facilities, equipment, and transportation. The operations plan created for joint-service mail delivery contained certain assumptions key to its success but led to unforeseen consequences or did not occur. Also, plans for a Joint Postal Center were not fully put in place. One lesson learned from 1991 was carried out with success during Operation Iraqi Freedom: mail was transported overseas by dedicated contractor airlifts rather than by military. DOD has not officially tasked any entity to resolve the long-standing postal problems experienced during contingency operations. Moreover, the Military Postal Service Agency does not have the authority to ensure that these problems are addressed jointly. This agency and the military services, however, have taken some steps toward tackling these issues.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In the absence of a clear plan for resolving recurring postal problems during contingency operations, the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) should designate, direct, and authorize an appropriate DOD agency, unit, or command to determine what long-standing postal issues need to be resolved, and to develop a specific course of action and timetable for their resolution, including appropriate follow-up to ensure that the problems have been fixed. Specifically, these actions should deploy properly trained and equipped postal troops into theater prior to the mail build-up.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: In the absence of a clear plan for resolving recurring postal problems during contingency operations, the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) should designate, direct, and authorize an appropriate DOD agency, unit, or command to determine what long-standing postal issues need to be resolved, and to develop a specific course of action and timetable for their resolution, including appropriate follow-up to ensure that the problems have been fixed. Specifically, these actions should strengthen the joint postal planning function and specify a body to ensure the implementation of postal operations in theater.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: Without clear and accurate data to measure the timeliness of mail to U.S. troops overseas during contingency operations, no meaningful assessment can be made on the quality of mail service. Therefore, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) to work with the Army Adjutant General to improve the quality of transit time data for postal operations by implementing a system that will accurately track, calculate, and report postal transit times.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurs and has directed the Military Postal Service Agency to work on a system to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: In the absence of a clear plan for resolving recurring postal problems during contingency operations, the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) should designate, direct, and authorize an appropriate DOD agency, unit, or command to determine what long-standing postal issues need to be resolved, and to develop a specific course of action and timetable for their resolution, including appropriate follow-up to ensure that the problems have been fixed. Specifically, these actions should dedicate adequate postal facilities, heavy equipment, and transportation assets for postal operations.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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