U.S. Postal Service:

Delivery Performance Standards, Measurement, and Reporting Need Improvement

GAO-06-733: Published: Jul 27, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 27, 2006.

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U.S. Postal Service (USPS) delivery performance standards and results, which are central to its mission of providing universal postal service, have been a long-standing concern for mailers and Congress. Standards are essential to set realistic expectations for delivery performance and organize activities accordingly. Timely and reliable reporting of results is essential for management, over-sight, and accountability purposes. GAO was asked to assess (1) USPS's delivery performance standards for timely mail delivery, (2) delivery performance information that USPS collects and reports on timely mail delivery, and (3) progress made to improve delivery performance information.

USPS has delivery standards for its major types of mail, but some have not been updated in a number of years to reflect changes in how mail is prepared and delivered. These outdated standards are unsuitable as benchmarks for setting realistic expectations for timely mail delivery, measuring delivery performance, or improving service, oversight, and accountability. USPS plans corrective action to update some standards. Also, some delivery standards are not easily accessible, which impedes mailers from obtaining information to make informed decisions. USPS does not measure and report its delivery performance for most types of mail. Therefore, transparency with regard to its overall performance in timely mail delivery is limited. Representative measures cover less than one-fifth of mail volume and do not include Standard Mail, bulk First-Class Mail, Periodicals, and most Package Services. Despite recent disclosures on its Web site, USPS's reporting is more limited than the scope of measurement. 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. Progress to improve delivery performance information has been slow and inadequate despite numerous USPS and mailer efforts. Some impediments to progress include USPS's lack of continued management commitment and follow through on recommendations made by joint USPS/mailer committees, as well as technology limitations, data quality deficiencies, limited mailer participation in providing needed performance data, and costs. Although USPS has initiatives to improve service and better track mail through its mail processing system, USPS has no current plans to implement and report on additional representative measures of delivery performance. USPS's leadership and effective collaboration with mailers is critical to implementing a complete set of delivery performance measures.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In December 2006, Congress enacted the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (P.L. 109-435) that required the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to measure and report on its delivery performance for each market-dominant product, which collectively represent 99 percent of mail volume. The 2006 act also required the newly-created Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to prescribe and oversee the methodology for USPS to measure delivery performance for these products, and to approve any internal measurement system used to measure delivery performance. USPS has started to implement new internal measurement systems for 80 percent of its total mail volume. However, our recommendation has not been implemented because the new measures are not yet representative and it is unclear whether they will become satisfactory or need to be replaced. According to PRC, reliable speed of delivery measurements for market-dominant products are limited to single-piece First-Class Mail, which represents about 20 percent of total mail volume. USPS has improved the coverage of measurement for single-piece First-Class Mail since we made our recommendation. Despite this progress, new delivery performance measures for other types of mail are not yet representative because they are based on results for a small and unrepresentative number of mailers that participate in measurement programs. PRC is critical of the level of mailer participation in measurement programs, noting it is only 9 percent for bulk First-Class Mail letters that qualify for automation discounts and only 0.1 percent for flat-size bulk First-Class Mail (e.g., large envelopes) that qualify for automation discounts. PRC recently reported that if mailer participation continues to be minimal, an alternative measurement system to capture delivery performance data for bulk First-Class and Standard Mail may need to be explored. Although we have not reviewed the quality of these performance measures, PRC's findings must be given great weight. As noted above, since we issued our report, the 2006 act assigned PRC oversight responsibility for USPS delivery performance measurement, including the specific responsibility of approving internal USPS systems to measure delivery performance. Thus, PRC will continue to follow-up USPS's progress in implementing acceptable systems to measure delivery performance.

    Recommendation: To facilitate greater progress in developing complete delivery performance information, the Postmaster General should implement representative delivery performance measures for all major types of mail by providing more effective collaboration with mailers and others to ensure effective working relationships, follow-through, accountability, and results.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to a Congressional request, we assessed delivery performance information on the timely delivery of mail that the U.S. Postal Service measures and reports and progress the Service had made in improving its delivery performance information. Our July 2006 report found that delivery performance is measured for less than one-fifth of mail volume, with no representative measures for Standard Mail, bulk First-Class Mail, Periodicals, and most Package Services. This limited transparency, made it difficult for the Service and its customers to identify and address delivery problems, and for Congress and others to hold management accountable for results and conduct independent oversight. We found that progress to improve delivery performance information had been slow and inadequate and concluded that prospects for progress continued to be uncertain, in part because the Service had not committed itself to developing representative performance measures for all major types of mail. Accordingly, we recommended that the Service commit to developing a complete set of delivery performance measures for each major type of mail that is representative of overall delivery performance. In December 2006, Congress enacted the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (P.L. 109-435) that required the Postal Service to measure and report on its delivery performance for each market-dominant product, which collectively represent 99 percent of mail volume. In June 2008, the Service provided a service performance measurement plan to the Postal Regulatory Commission, which committed to measure and report on delivery performance for market-dominant products starting in fiscal year 2009.

    Recommendation: To facilitate greater progress in developing complete delivery performance information, the Postmaster General should provide a clear commitment in USPS's Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations to develop a complete set of delivery performance measures for each major type of mail that is representative of overall delivery performance.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to a Congressional request, we assessed delivery standards for the timely delivery of mail that the U.S. Postal Service had established. Our July 2006 report found that the Postal Service had delivery standards for its major types of mail, but some had not been updated in a number of years to reflect changes in how mail is prepared and delivered. These outdated standards were unsuitable as benchmarks for setting realistic expectations for timely mail delivery, measuring delivery performance, or improving service, oversight, and accountability. Accordingly, we recommended that the Postal Service modernize delivery standards for all major types of mail so that they reflect Postal Service operations and could be used as benchmarks for understanding and measuring delivery performance. In December 2006, Congress enacted the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (P.L. 109-435) that required the Postal Service to modernize its delivery standards. In December 2007, the Service made important progress in modernizing its delivery standards, implementing the most sweeping update in delivery performance standards in many years. In particular, standards for Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Package Services that had dated back many years were realigned with current postal operations.

    Recommendation: To facilitate greater progress in developing complete delivery performance information, the Postmaster General should modernize delivery standards for all major types of mail so that they reflect the USPS operations and can be used as benchmarks for understanding and measuring delivery performance.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In December 2006, Congress enacted the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (P.L. 109-435) that required the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to measure and report on its delivery performance for each market-dominant product, which collectively represent 99 percent of mail volume. The 2006 act also required the newly-created Postal Regulatory Commission to prescribe requirements for USPS reporting of its delivery performance. USPS has started to measure and report on delivery performance for market-dominant products, but has made little progress in improving transparency of its delivery performance standards, measures, and results. First, summary information on USPS delivery standards is incomplete and scattered across its Web site, with key information not readily accessible for those who do not know where to find it. USPS also makes voluminous raw data available on the service standards for various types of mail (i.e., standards for the many thousands of origin-destination combinations), but has discontinued a user-friendly CD-ROM with software that enabled mailers to analyze and make decisions based on this data. Second, USPS posts summary information on its delivery performance measures on its Web site, but this information is not readily accessible for those who do not know where to find it. Third, USPS reports delivery performance results on its Web site, but readily accessible trend data is not available, and related information is scattered on different Web pages that are not linked. For example, quarterly results are posted for the most recent quarter, and persons interested in results for a particular geographic area (e.g., members of Congress or the general public) must collect the desired data from separate tables on each type of mail. Further, USPS performance results are not linked to targets posted elsewhere on its Web site. PRC recently reported on multiple deficiencies in USPS disclosure of its delivery performance results and made recommendations to improve transparency in this area. Because USPS's transparency in this area is continues to be unsatisfactory, with little progress made over the past 5 years, we are closing this recommendation as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To facilitate greater progress in developing complete delivery performance information, the Postmaster General should improve the transparency of delivery performance standards, measures, and results by publicly disclosing more information, including in its Comprehensive Statement on Postal Operations and other annual performance reports to Congress, as well as providing easily accessible information on its web site.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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