U.S. Postal Service:
Actions Needed to Make Delivery Performance Information More Complete, Useful, and Transparent
GAO-15-756: Published: Sep 30, 2015. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 2015.
What GAO Found
U.S. Postal Service (USPS) measurement of on-time delivery performance has expanded greatly over the past 9 years, but remains incomplete because only 55 percent of market-dominant mail (primarily First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Package Services) is included (see fig.). The remaining 45 percent is excluded due to various limitations, such as not having barcodes to enable tracking. Incomplete measurement poses the risk that measures of on-time performance are not representative, since performance may differ for mail included in the measurement, from mail that is not. Complete performance information enables effective management, oversight, and accountability. In addition, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has not fully assessed why USPS data are not complete and representative. While PRC's annual reports have provided data on the amount of mail included in measurement, they have not fully assessed why this measurement was incomplete or whether USPS actions will make it so. PRC may initiate a public inquiry docket (a type of proceeding) to improve data quality and completeness, but has not done so. Such a proceeding could facilitate evaluating data quality and identifying areas for improvement, as well as actions and time frames to complete improvements.
Mail Included in Performance Measurement, Fiscal Year 2006 and Second Quarter of Fiscal Year 2015
USPS's and PRC's reports on delivery performance are not as useful as they could be for effective oversight because they do not include sufficient analysis to hold USPS accountable for meeting its statutory mission to provide service in all areas of the nation. USPS's and PRC's reports provide analysis, as legally required. However, this national-level analysis does not facilitate an understanding of results and trends below the national level, such as for USPS's 67 districts, to identify variations and areas where improvements are needed. Further, delivery performance information is not sufficiently transparent or readily available. USPS posts only the most recent quarterly report on its website making it difficult for stakeholders to access trend data. Also, USPS and PRC are not required to provide—and do not report—performance information for rural areas. While several Members of Congress have recently requested studies on rural delivery performance, USPS has stated that such analysis would be costly, even though it could not provide specific cost estimates. Such cost information would be useful for Congress to assess whether developing this information would be appropriate.
Why GAO Did This Study
USPS is in the difficult position of balancing cost-cutting actions to address its poor financial situation with efforts to provide prompt, affordable, and reliable mail service. GAO has previously reported that complete, useful, and transparent delivery performance information is essential for USPS and stakeholders to understand USPS's success in achieving this balance.
GAO was asked to review how USPS measures delivery performance and how PRC assesses this information. GAO assessed (1) USPS's measurement of mail delivery performance and related oversight by PRC and (2) USPS's and PRC's reporting of this information. GAO reviewed USPS and PRC delivery performance data for fiscal years 2010-2015, delivery service standards, and measurement system documents, as well as applicable laws and leading practices identified in GAO's prior work.
What GAO Recommends
To assist in determining whether to require USPS and PRC to report on delivery performance for rural areas, Congress should direct USPS to provide cost estimates related to providing this information. Further, GAO recommends that USPS and PRC take steps to improve the completeness, analysis, and transparency of delivery performance information. USPS and PRC agreed with the recommendations addressed to them, but disagreed with certain findings on which they are based. GAO believes these findings are valid, as discussed in this report.
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Matter for Congressional Consideration
Comments: When we confirm what actions the Congress has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Matter: To assist in determining whether to require USPS and PRC to report on delivery performance for rural and non-rural areas, Congress should direct USPS to provide cost estimates related to providing this information.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: In 2015, we reported that U.S. Postal Service (USPS) measurement of on-time delivery performance has expanded greatly over the past 9 years, but remains incomplete because only 55 percent of market-dominant mail (primarily First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Periodicals, and Package Services) is included. As a result, the data may not be representative because performance may be different for the remaining 45 percent of the mail not included in measurement. Although the Postal Regulatory Commission's (PRC) reports provide data on the amount of mail included in measurement, they have neither fully assessed the reasons why these measurements are incomplete, nor specified what actions USPS needs to take and the related time frames needed to achieve complete performance measurement. PRC's annual compliance reports have discussed how much mail volume for each type of mail is included in measurement and when USPS did not report performance results due to a lack of measurable data. However, PRC has not fully pursued the main causes for incomplete data. PRC could pursue the causes for incomplete data within its annual compliance reviews or it may initiate a separate public inquiry docket (a type of proceeding). Furthermore, by law, PRC may initiate proceedings to improve the quality, accuracy, or completeness of data, but it has not exercised this option. Both PRC and USPS are opposed to having PRC initiate such a proceeding. PRC believes that USPS's delivery performance measures are generally sufficiently reliable, and representative for PRC to meet its legal responsivities for assessing USPS's compliance with service performance standards at the national level. USPS indicated that a new proceeding to consider data quality and completeness issues is not necessary because the current proceeding before the PRC provides a public forum for consideration of the quality of service performance data, as well as mail excluded from measurement. However, according to publicly available documents in the current proceeding, PRC has not explored issues of delivery performance measurement data for bulk mail that are excluded from USPS's current measurement systems, the multiple causes for these exclusions, and USPS actions under way and planned to address the causes. The proceeding also has not thoroughly explored mailers' concerns regarding data exclusions, such as exclusion rules and mailer views regarding time frames for making progress on reducing the exclusions. Although USPS and PRC are opposed to such a proceeding, we believe that a PRC proceeding that focuses on issues of data completeness--particularly the problem of excluding mail due to a lack of information--could facilitate more rapid progress by USPS and the mailing industry toward complete measurement. Therefore, we recommended that PRC hold a public proceeding involving USPS, the mailing industry, and interested parties to address how USPS can improve the completeness of USPS's delivery performance information. In October 2015, PRC initiated a public inquiry docket on potential issues related to the quality and completeness of service performance data measured by USPS. In its docket, PRC cited the GAO recommendation as the reason for initiating the docket. As a result of this proceeding, PRC is taking steps to improve the completeness of USPS's delivery performance information.
Recommendation: To improve the completeness of USPS delivery performance information, the Acting Chairman of PRC and the other PRC Commissioners should exercise PRC's statutory authority to hold a public proceeding involving USPS, the mailing industry, and interested parties to address how USPS can improve the completeness of USPS's delivery performance information.
Agency Affected: Postal Regulatory Commission
Comments: USPS acknowledged that the service performance data it reports on its website lacks the granularity of the reports it publicly files with PRC, and does not serve the purposes of in-depth congressional oversight. USPS added that although it is not clear that typical household mailers would use or find value in that level of data granularity, it will pursue establishing a distinct portal for public access to service performance reports, in an effort to be more transparent.
Recommendation: To improve the usefulness and transparency of USPS's and PRC's reporting of delivery performance information, the Postmaster General should provide additional and readily available delivery performance information, such as trend data for on-time delivery performance for all 67 postal districts.
Agency Affected: United States Postal Service
Comments: PRC agreed with this recommendation and has updated its website in response. From PRC's homepage, a menu item titled "Reports/Data Service Reports" allows access to service performance related reports and dockets. As a result, PRC has made delivery performance information more transparent--which is an essential component for enabling the U.S. Postal Service and postal stakeholders to understand and evaluate how well the U.S. Postal Service is fulfilling its statutory mission and specific statutory requirements for mail delivery.
Recommendation: To improve the usefulness and transparency of USPS's and PRC's reporting of delivery performance information, the Acting Chairman of PRC and the other PRC Commissioners should provide readily available data and additional analysis of USPS's delivery performance information so that stakeholders can better understand trends and variations in mail delivery performance.
Agency Affected: Postal Regulatory Commission