U.S. Postal Service Facilities:

Improvements in Data Would Strengthen Maintenance and Alignment of Access to Retail Services

GAO-08-41: Published: Dec 10, 2007. Publicly Released: Dec 10, 2007.

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Continued financial challenges and increased competition call for the U.S. Postal Service to manage its 34,000 facilities as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. GAO and others have identified key facility management challenges, including the need to (1) capture and maintain accurate facility data, (2) adequately maintain facilities, and (3) align retail access with customer needs. This report assesses Postal Service efforts to overcome these challenges and implement leading federal practices. To conduct this study, GAO analyzed postal data and documents, visited 58 facilities, and interviewed postal officials.

To address the challenge of capturing and maintaining accurate facility management data, the Postal Service developed the Facility Database, but the database does not conform to the Postal Service's goals or to leading federal practices; specifically, it does not include data needed to measure performance on managing facilities or have the capacity to track such data over time. Further, a database analysis by GAO revealed data reliability problems, including duplicative and contradictory data. In addition, major Postal Service departments do not use the database as a consolidated data source for managing postal facilities. The Postal Service has attempted to improve the database, but many problems remain. To address the challenge of maintaining its facilities, the Postal Service has begun assessing the condition of the facilities but has neither determined the extent of its maintenance projects nor strategically prioritized the projects. A Postal Service inspection of 651 randomly selected postal facilities revealed that two-thirds were in less than "acceptable" condition, but the Postal Service had not documented the full extent of its maintenance projects backlog. After the inspection, the Postal Service initiated a program to assess the condition of all of its facilities--a necessary first step to improving their condition. In addition, the Postal Service lacks the data needed to implement leading federal practices, such as considering a facility's importance and value when prioritizing its maintenance projects. Due to funding constraints, the Postal Service currently focuses exclusively on emergency and urgent repairs--at the expense of a less costly preventive maintenance approach. To address the challenge of aligning access to postal retail services with customer needs, the Postal Service has expanded access in underserved areas but has done less to address overserved areas. Leading federal practices identify criteria for "rightsizing" facility networks--such as considering facilities' importance and utilization--but the Postal Service does not consider these criteria. GAO's analysis shows wide variation in the number of postal retail facilities among comparable counties, and a number of facilities GAO visited appeared to merit consideration for closure based on one or more of the federal criteria. If the Postal Service begins collecting data that reflects criteria based on leading federal practices, it may be able to close facilities and adjust access to retail services according to customer needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, GAO found that the Postal Service developed the Facility Database (FDB) in 2003 to address the challenge of capturing and maintaining facility data, but it has not accomplished this goal. FDB did not, among other things, archive data at regular intervals, as is necessary for tracking trends over time. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Postal Service begin tracking facility management performance trends. In response, the Postal Service in 2010 moved away from using FDB to track performance and relies on the Vice President for Facilities Electronic Facility Management System (eFMS) to track trends in performance. Unlike the FDB, eFMS has the capability to track trends over time, which the Postal Service has started to utilize. With trend data, the Postal Service can identify a facility's utilization rate and condition, to identify closure possibilities and justify closure decisions.

    Recommendation: To conform to leading federal practices, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President for Delivery and Retail to begin tracking facility management performance trends.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO's analysis of the Facilities Database revealed data reliability problems, including duplicative and contradictory data. We recommended that the Postal Service take steps to improve its reliability and usefulness by establishing internal controls, such as edit checks, to preclude obvious mistakes. The Postal Service has added controls to the Facilities Database to minimize errors and improved the data exchange of facility address information between the Facilities Database and two other systems by synchronizing all three systems and improving overall data quality.

    Recommendation: If the Postal Service decides to retain FDB, the Postal Service should take steps to improve its reliability and usefulness by establishing internal controls, such as edit checks, to preclude obvious mistakes.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, GAO reported that the Postal Service was financially challenged to adequately maintain its facilities. The Postal Service neither determined the extent of its maintenance projects not prioritized them. The Postal Service based its maintenance priorities on urgency. For example, roof issues took priority over nonstructural interior maintenance needs. While urgency was important for prioritizing maintenance spending, leading federal practices consider other important issues such as condition and utilization. Without these data, the Postal Service made difficult choices about what repairs to make and what repairs to defer. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Postal Service prioritize maintenance projects based on a facility's overall performance, including measures consistent with the spirit of those developed by the Federal Council. In response in 2010, the Postal Service improved its maintenance data in the following ways. It implemented Facility Condition Assessment Program, which is comprised of a three tiered approach to identifying and prioritizing repair and alterations project work. Annual Small Facility Self Assessments are conducted for Postal Service facilities under 6,500 square feet, comprehensive building inspections are conducted every three years for facilities from 6,500 square feet to 60,000 square feet, and annual Plant Self Assessments are conducted for facilities larger than 60,000 square feet. The deficiencies identified in these inspections are entered into a national database, where the deficiencies are identified, assigned cost estimates and provided with a rating for the condition of the asset and the criticality of the asset to the Postal Service mission. The condition and the criticality ratings of the asset are averaged to provide a budget priority rating for the project work addressing the deficiency. As an example, dock equipment receives a high default criticality rating due to the importance of functioning dock equipment to USPS mission. If a dock lift is broken and there are only two dock positions in the facility, the deficiency will receive a condition rating of 5 (repair or replace immediately) which will be averaged with it's criticality rating of 4 (Critical: Life safety, mission, security) and receive a budget priority rating of 4.5 (the highest priority rating that can be assigned). With these data from the Facility Condition Assessment Program, the Postal Service now has the data it needs on Postal facilities to make easier choices regarding what repairs need to be made and what repairs to defer, which is consistent with the Federal Council.

    Recommendation: To improve facility management and reduce long-term facility costs, the Postmaster General should, consistent with leading federal practices, direct the Vice President for Facilities to prioritize maintenance projects based on a facility's overall performance, including measures consistent with the spirit of those developed by the Federal Council.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, we found that the Postal Service's (USPS) Facility Database (FDB) meet leading federal practices for facility data because FDB does does not contain needed data fields for tracking facility management performance. Specifically, USPS does not track the four performance measures recommended by the Federal Council--facility importance, utilization rate, condition, and annual operating costs--to assist agencies in strategically managing their facility networks. We recommended that USPS measure facility management performance consistent with the spirit of those developed by the Federal Council. In response in 2010, USPS officials considered the Federal Council's performance measures. However, since USPS is not required to report to the centralized governmentwide real property database, it was not constrained by those data elements. As a result, USPS has chosen to track similar information that meets the postal service's facilities' specific needs. For example, USPS calculates the Facilities' Condition Index using a national database which stores building inspection information and prioritizes building deficiencies, which helps prioritize budget and workload allocations. Although USPS does not collect mission dependency information, it has contingency operation plans for every facility that identifies the operation off load plan in case of an emergency. USPS officials said USPS views each of its facilities as critical to service. Regarding utilization rate, USPS tracks and measures where excess and vacant space is located within its real property portfolio. USPS officials also said that while there is not a single annual operating cost indicator, they are able to use different data elements to calculate the annual operating cost. These actions will help the Postal Service measure the performance of the its real property management, consistent with the Federal Council as described, and implement our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To conform to leading federal practices, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President for Delivery and Retail to measure facility management performance consistent with the spirit of those developed by the Federal Council.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To address the challenge of capturing and maintaining accurate facility management data, the Postal Service developed the Facility Database, but the database does not conform to the Postal Service's goals or to leading federal practices; specifically, it does not include data needed to measure performance on managing facilities or have the capacity to track such data over time. Further, a database analysis by GAO revealed data reliability problems, including duplicative and contradictory data. To strengthen the reliability and usefulness of the Postal Service's facility data, GAO recommended the Postmaster General direct the Vice President of Delivery and Retail to determine, in consultation with the Vice Presidents of Facilities and Intelligent Mail and Address Quality, whether it is more cost-effective to make FDB a reliable source for consolidated data on its facilities or to replace it with a new, more reliable database. The Postal Service agreed with this recommendation and determined that that it is more cost effective to retain the Facilities Database.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the reliability and usefulness of the Postal Service's facility data, the Postmaster General should direct the Vice President of Delivery and Retail to determine, in consultation with the Vice Presidents of Facilities and Intelligent Mail and Address Quality, whether it is more cost-effective to make Facility Database (FDB) a reliable source for consolidated data on its facilities or to replace it with a new, more reliable database.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, GAO reported that the Postal Service was challenged to align retail access with customer needs. The Postal Service had expanded access to its retail services in underserved areas by establishing retail alternatives and setting goals for the use of those alternatives, such as the sale of postal services through privately operated contract facilities and the internet. However, the Postal Service did not proactively identify and close unneeded retail facilities in overserved areas, which was a goal of its 2002 Transformation Plan. This inaction did not conform with leading federal practices which suggests that agencies consider closing facilities that are, among other things, not fully utilized or are costly to operate relative to their revenue. Therefore, GAO recommended that the Postal Service institute a proactive, criteria-based approach to assist in identifying unneeded retail facilities for possible closure. In response, the Postal Service designated two nationwide initiatives to review retail facilities for possible closure. In 2009, the Postal Service started the Station and Branch Optimization and Consolidation Initiative with the objective, consistent with our recommendation, to identify and take advantage of opportunities for increased efficiency while also ensuring that USPS maintains postal facilities of such character and in such locations that postal patrons have ready access to postal services. The initiative screened over 3,000 large stations and branches, primarily in urban and suburban areas for potential closure and lead to the closure of 131 stations and branches by the end of 2011. In 2011, USPS began the Retail Access Optimization Initiative to examine 3,650 additional rural retail facilities for possible closure based on data-driven criteria related to revenue, workload. As a result, the Postal Service is in a better position to identify and close unneeded retail facilities.

    Recommendation: To improve facility management and reduce long-term facility costs, the Postmaster General should, consistent with leading federal practices, direct the Vice President for Delivery and Retail to institute a proactive, criteria-based approach to assist in identifying unneeded retail facilities for possible closure as part of the June 2008 facility plan required by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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