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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is not managing its outgoing mail effectively as it lacks key elements of an effective mail management program, including reliable data on mail volume and expenditures, agency-wide performance measures for mail operations, and mail managers with appropriate authority and responsibilities.

Reporting reliable mail expenditure and volume data: The mail data VA reports to the General Services Administration (GSA) are unreliable, in part because VA's fragmented process for procuring mailing equipment prevents VA from tracking mail volume and expenditures consistently across facilities. Specifically, each fiscal year, hundreds of VA facilities individually enter their mail expenditure and volume data into a GSA database that collects mail data from federal agencies. These data are collected through inconsistent processes. For example, some facilities use mailing equipment and associated software that can automatically track volume and costs by service provider and mail class, while other facilities' equipment may be too old to have this capability or they use spreadsheets, bills, or receipts to track their costs. These processes are inconsistent because VA's different components and facilities contract for mailroom equipment independently of one another. VA lacks an overall plan to procure mailing equipment strategically. Through such procurement, VA could implement a system that would more consistently track data on mail expenditures and volume. This step would not only improve the reliability of these data but could also allow VA to take advantage of price discounts typically available under broader contracts.

Measuring performance: VA is unable to evaluate the overall efficiency of its mail program because its mail management policy does not include agency-wide goals and performance measures for its mail operations, and it has inconsistent measures across its facilities. For example, of the 10 VA facilities GAO reviewed, some assessed performance using customer service, efficiency, volume, and cost, while others used annual expenditures, among other measures. Updating the policy to include agency-wide goals and performance measures would allow VA to track progress toward consistent goals and provide it with crucial performance information needed to make programmatic decisions.

Mail managers with appropriate authority and responsibilities: VA's ability to oversee mailing practices across its facilities is limited because it has not provided its mail managers with appropriate authority and responsibilities, per federal internal control standards. The agency mail manager's responsibilities are limited to oversight of VA's mail policy, with no operational role in mail management. Additionally, mail managers for the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration reported that they advise individual facilities on mail management but have no authority to direct their mail operations. Without determining appropriate authority and responsibilities for its mail managers, VA is unable to ensure that its facilities are managing their mail effectively.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA sends hundreds of millions of pieces of mail to veterans and their dependents, including prescription medications and information about benefits or disability compensation. However, VA’s reported mail volume and costs—$355 million in 2016—are among the highest in the federal government. GAO was asked to review VA’s mail management practices.

This report examines the extent to which VA manages its outgoing mail effectively. GAO identified key elements of an effective mail management program from federal regulation and internal control standards; reviewed VA-reported mail expenditure and volume data for fiscal years 2015 and 2016; collected information on mailing practices at 10 VA facilities with the highest mail volume in fiscal year 2015; and interviewed representatives of VA, GSA, the U.S. Postal Service, VA’s two primary mailing equipment vendors, and two of the nation’s largest veterans service organizations.

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Recommendations

To manage its mail program more effectively, VA should develop and document a plan to improve how VA procures mailing equipment, update mail policy to include goals and performance measures, and determine and document the authority and responsibilities of the agency and administration-level mail managers to enable them to better manage and oversee mail operations. VA concurred with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs To manage the mail program more effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should develop and document a plan to source contracts for mailing equipment in a more strategic manner. Such strategic contract sourcing should enable facilities to obtain equipment to track mail volume and expenditure data more consistently and to maximize cost savings.
Closed - Implemented
In 2017, GAO reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was not managing its outgoing mail effectively as it lacked key elements of an effective mail management program, including, among other things, having reliable data on mail volume and expenditures. The mail data VA reported to the General Services Administration were unreliable, in part because VA's fragmented process for procuring mailing equipment prevented VA from tracking mail volume and expenditures consistently across facilities. These data were collected through an inconsistent process that allowed VA's different components and hundreds of facilities to contract for mailroom equipment independently from one another. VA also lacked an overall plan to source its contracts for the mailing equipment that would provide this capability in a more strategic manner. Without such a plan, VA was missing opportunities to track and report mail data more consistently and realize cost savings. Therefore, GAO recommended that VA develop and document a plan to source contracts for mailing equipment in a more strategic manner. In 2019, GAO confirmed that VA documented and developed the recommended plan. Specifically, through a collaborative effort involving the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, National Cemetery Administration, and VA Staff Offices, the VA Enterprise Mail Management Team produced a comprehensive inventory of mail equipment and software identified in over 1,600 VA facilities. VA also embarked on a national-level contracting strategy that incorporates all mail operations equipment, maintenance, and software. In May 2018, VA released an RFI on FedBizOpps.gov seeking industry recommendations for the VA enterprise-wide mail management system design and reporting solutions, which closed in July 2018. Since the closure of the RFI, the VA Enterprise Mail Management Team worked with VA Contracting Officers to conduct market research to determine modernization options and various contracting strategies to standardize procurement of mail equipment. The data collected were used to perform an Independent Government Cost Estimate for contract options. Using these data and information, the Office of Information and Technology's Enterprise Mail Management Program Management Office (EMM PMO) developed and documented an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract vehicle to source contracts for mailing equipment in a more strategic manner and is currently implementing the plan. EMM PMO is in the final stages of acquisition approval for a contract to lease mailing equipment. With the plan in place, VA can source contracts for mail equipment strategically and its facilities have the ability to obtain equipment to track mail volume and expenditure data more consistently as well as maximize cost savings.
Department of Veterans Affairs To manage the mail program more effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should update VA Directive 6340 to incorporate agency-wide goals and performance measures for mail operations.
Closed - Implemented
Each year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sends hundreds of millions of pieces of mail to veterans and their dependents, who rely on this mail for medications and critical information about medical appointments, disability compensation, pension benefits, and more. VA's reported mail volume and costs are among the highest in the federal government. In 2017, we found that VA is not managing its mail program effectively, as it lacks key elements of an effective mail management program. In particular, we found that VA's mail policy does not include agency-wide goals and performance measures for mail operations, and as a result, VA is unable to determine the extent to which its mail operations are efficient and effective. The Federal Management Regulation requires that federal agencies have performance measures for mail operations at the agency level and in all mail facilities and program levels. However, VA's mail management policy did not address the Federal Management Regulation performance measures requirement. More specifically, Directive 6340-VA's 1996 mail management policy directive and handbook-predates current mail management regulations and had not been updated. Without an updated policy providing performance measures across the agency, VA's ability to evaluate the efficiency of its mail operations was limited. Therefore, we recommended that VA update VA Directive 6340 to incorporate agency-wide goals and performance measures for mail operations. In 2021, GAO confirmed that the VA Enterprise Mail Management Program Office revised Directive 6340, and the associated Handbook to include agency-wide goals and performance measures for mail operations. With this updated policy, providing performance measures across the agency, VA enhanced its ability to evaluate the efficiency of its mail operations.
Department of Veterans Affairs To manage the mail program more effectively, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should determine and document the authority and responsibilities of the agency and administration-level mail managers to enable them to improve management and oversight of mail operations.
Closed - Implemented
In 2017, GAO reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was not managing its outgoing mail effectively as it lacked key elements of an effective mail management program, including, among other things, mail managers with appropriate authority and responsibilities. Although VA had designated mail managers at the agency and administration levels, these mail managers have limited ability to oversee mail operations at the agency because VA had not provided them with appropriate authority and responsibilities. According to VA officials, the responsibilities of the agency mail manager position were limited to oversight of the policy directive and handbook that cover the mail program-with no operational role in mail management. Additionally, mail operations in Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefit Administration facilities were the responsibility of administration-level mail managers. However, these mail managers reported that although they advise individual facilities on mail management, they had no authority to direct their mail operations. Without determining appropriate authority and responsibilities for its mail managers, VA is unable to ensure that its facilities are managing their mail effectively. Therefore, GAO recommended that VA determine and document the authority and responsibilities of the agency and administration-level mail managers to enable them to improve management and oversight of mail operations. In 2019, GAO confirmed that VA determined and documented the authority of its mail managers. Specifically, VA made revisions to its mail management policy directive that address the roles and functions of officials responsible for the various aspects of VA's mail management program. VA then approved, funded, and filled two positions-a VA Enterprise Mail Manager and a program analyst-to oversee VA's mail management program at an enterprise, agency-wide level. Additionally, the VA Enterprise Mail Management Team developed a guidance template for VA mailrooms to develop individual standard operating procedures (SOPs) under the signature of their respective leadership. As a result, the VA's mail managers are better positioned to provide leadership and oversight of facility mail operations to ensure effective management across the agency.

Full Report

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