The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a harsh critique of the U.S. Postal Service and its efforts thus far to implement a 10-year strategic plan aimed at improving performance and turning around mounting losses that run against a government mandate for the USPS to be self-sustaining.
The USPS has taken issue with the findings, in part because it is faulted for not strictly adhering to the GAO’s best practices in project management. It said in a response letter to the GAO that its strategic process for implementing the 10-year Delivering for America plan was “robust and effective.”
In a May address to the National Postal Forum, USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy detailed progress two years into the strategic plan, which calls for $40 billion invested in mail processing, facility improvements and the delivery network. He again laid out numerous issues inherited when he took over control of the agency in 2020.
“Congress and USPS have taken significant actions in recent years to address USPS’s financial condition, including Congress’ passing of the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022,” the GAO said in its report to House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman Jamie Raskin, D-Md. “However, USPS’s business model is still not financially sustainable.”
The GAO report also said that any gains made in the past two years since the strategic plan was initiated have been wiped out by increased losses, which the USPS says are largely due to inflation. It notes that the USPS has not been able to cover its debt and expenses for 15 years. The total debt dropped from roughly $200 billion to $140 billion last year as a result of the Postal Reform Act. But the GAO noted that was only “financial relief on paper” from waiving missed payments and eliminating the mandated prefunding of retiree healthcare benefits, not actual cash flow.
According to the report, the USPS has partially or fully met six of 11 of the GAO’s leading practices for project management. However, the GAO said, it fell short on five of them: having an integrated master schedule; a trackable performance baseline; conducting root cause analysis; capturing and sharing lessons learned; and conducting independent reviews throughout the life of the project.
“Given that USPS plans to implement over 100 projects in the coming years, it is especially important to collect and disseminate lessons learned to benefit future projects,” the GAO stated in the report. “By further incorporating leading practices into its policies and guidance, USPS could better realize benefits for its current and future strategic plan projects.”
While noting performance improvements since the strategic plan was implemented, the GAO said this was partly due to a 2021 update to service standards that increased the number of days in transit.
The GAO issued six recommendations as corrective actions, five of which dealt with the shortfall areas noted above. A sixth calls for the USPS to better define what constitutes an exception allowing for deviation from strategic plan objectives, and for creation of a process to document the rationale for those exceptions.
In a letter to David Marroni, acting director of physical infrastructure for the GAO, Luke Grossmann, Senior Vice President, Finance and Strategy for the USPS laid out his objections to the report’s conclusions.
“Though the GAO provided us with a high-level list of criteria for best practices, this list did not include sufficient detail for to implement each practice or to fully understand the criteria for ‘fully meeting’ them,” Grossmann wrote.