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U.S. Postal Service: Better Use of Climate Data Could Enhance the Climate Resilience of Postal Facilities

GAO-21-104152 Published: Sep 30, 2021. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2021.
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Fast Facts

The U.S. Postal Service has more than 32,000 facilities. We reviewed damages to them from recent weather-related natural disasters, what USPS is doing to make them more resilient to climate change, and more.

  • About 3% of its facilities suffered damages in 21 disasters from FY 2015-2019, causing over $30 million in damages
  • Over 10,000 of its facilities are in the potential path of floods, storm surges, and other climate change effects

The Postal Service considers measures to improve resilience in its facility investment process. But it does so later in the planning process than its own policy calls for. Our recommendation addresses this issue.

Hurricane Michael damaged ceilings at the main post office in Lynn Haven, Florida, in October 2018

Ceiling debris scattered throughout the post office.

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What GAO Found

GAO's analysis of the United States Postal Service's (USPS) data found that about 1,065 USPS facilities—about 3 percent of USPS's over 32,000 facilities—sustained damage from 21 weather-related natural disasters from fiscal years 2015 through 2019. The damage, from floods, hurricanes, winter storms and other disasters, cost USPS over $30 million and ranged from broken flag poles to collapsed sections of buildings. USPS officials noted that any amount paid to repair damage is a challenge given USPS's poor financial condition.

Impact of Most Costly Weather-Related Natural Disasters on the U.S. Postal Service's Facilities, Fiscal Years 2015–2019


GAO's analysis of USPS and federal climate data found that about one-third (just over 10,000) of USPS's facilities are in areas that may be affected by one or more potential climate change effects including flooding, storm surge, sea level rise, and wildfires. Most of the facilities at risk are post offices, but about one-third of USPS's mail processing and distribution facilities, which are crucial to USPS's ability to process and deliver mail, are also at risk.

USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities, but its practices are not consistent with its policy to assess climate risk early in its investment process. Several factors can affect USPS's efforts to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities, including competing priorities for limited financial resources and a universal service mission that necessitates having facilities in all parts of the country—even in areas at heightened risk from climate change. Nevertheless, USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience, such as adding resilience requirements to its facility guidance and developing a mapping tool to analyze climate data in its facility investment process. However, USPS currently uses these data at the end of the process, rather than in the preliminary planning steps, as specified in USPS policy. Using the data earlier could help USPS enhance the resilience of its facilities to climate change and ensure that Americans continue to have access to mail that they depend upon.

Why GAO Did This Study

USPS has one of the largest asset portfolios in the United States. Its post offices and other facilities are essential to the processing and delivery of mail, which millions of Americans rely on for communication and commerce. Weather-related natural disasters resulting from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, can damage USPS's facilities and present financial and operational risks. According to a recent study, some extreme weather events are projected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Investing in climate resilience—taking actions to reduce potential damage by planning for extreme weather events—can help to manage climate change risks.

GAO was asked to review the climate resilience of USPS's facilities. This report addresses: (1) how USPS's facilities have been affected by recent weather-related natural disasters; (2) the extent to which USPS's facilities may be affected by climate change effects; and (3) the extent to which USPS has taken steps to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities.

GAO analyzed USPS facilities' data and financial data as well as federal climate data; reviewed prior GAO work on climate resilience, the Fourth National Climate Assessment , USPS policies and facility inspection reports; and interviewed USPS officials.


GAO recommends that USPS assess climate data in the preliminary steps of its facility investment process. USPS generally concurred with GAO's findings and agreed to evaluate its options for assessing climate data in its facility investment process.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Postal Service The Postmaster General should ensure that executive leaders incorporate climate information, such as available real-time climate data, in the preliminary steps of USPS's process for making facility investments, consistent with the requirements of USPS policy. (Recommendation 1)
Closed – Implemented
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has one of the largest asset portfolios in the United States, including over 9,000 owned and 23,000 leased facilities. Natural disasters resulting from extreme weather events, such as flooding and hurricanes, can expose these facilities to damage or destruction and present risks to USPS's ability to effectively fulfill its mission. Weather-related natural disasters can also result in additional financial burdens for USPS. With its poor financial condition, and an expectation that USPS cover its costs primarily through its own revenues, the projected increase in extreme weather events from climate change makes climate resilience an important concern for USPS. In 2021, we reported that USPS had taken some steps to incorporate climate resilience into its facilities. Among other things, USPS added a requirement in its investment policies and procedures to include a climate assessment in the preliminary steps of developing a facility investment proposal. According to this policy, these assessments must illustrate the potential impacts associated with climate change of the proposed investment. However, we found that USPS's facility investment process is not consistent with this 2019 policy change. Specifically, USPS officials told us that the preliminary steps of developing a facility investment proposal, such as for repairs or new construction, are based upon USPS's design standards and relevant building codes, not a climate assessment. While the use of design standards and building codes can help make individual projects more resilient to weather-related natural disasters, we have previously found that standards and codes generally incorporate climate information from historical observations, such as average seasonal temperatures, rather than forward-looking climate information, such as projected rainfall rates. Thus, standards and codes may not be fully effective for ensuring that facilities and other infrastructure are resilient to extreme weather events or changes in climate conditions. Accordingly, we recommended that USPS ensure that climate information, such as climate data, is incorporated in the preliminary steps of USPS's process for making facility investments. In 2023, we confirmed that USPS had updated its facility investment process to include climate change risk data as part of its preliminary reviews. In particular, USPS's Corporate Energy Interface Resilience Tool can now be used to analyze facilities' risks for sea level rise and natural disasters. USPS also provided a training for its staff on the changes to this Resilience Tool. This enhanced process should allow USPS to better manage the potential risks of climate change effects to its facilities and make adjustments to enhance the facilities' resilience.

Full Report

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Building codesClimateClimate changeDisaster resilienceEmergency managementFacility maintenanceNatural disastersPostal serviceRepair costsSea level riseAssetsFloods