The USPS OIG has released a report about the Postal Service’s handling of post office suspensions, and in particular the problem of suspensions that don’t get resolved within a reasonable period of time. Among the IG’s findings is that the system used for tracking suspensions has “data reliability issues.” To help address this problem, the Postal Service told the IG that it is developing a suspension dashboard. Unfortunately, the public won’t be able to see it.
The objective of the IG’s investigation was to assess the effectiveness of the Postal Service’s plans to resolve a backlog of suspensions that, by the end of fiscal year 2016, included over 650 post offices. Several of the suspensions had gone unresolved for many years, even though the Postal Service’s policy “requires a post office suspension be resolved by either re-opening or permanently closing the facility, which is typically completed between 180 to 280 days.”
Since 2020, the Postal Service has been providing the Postal Regulatory Commission with plans for resolving the suspensions, but the IG’s report says it could not find sufficient documentation to support implementation of the plans that were reported to the public.
The IG also found that there were “data reliability” problems with the system used to track suspensions. The tracking forms were often incomplete and did not have the required information within 90 days of the suspension on whether to restore service, secure another space, or take other necessary corrective action.
The IG also did field visits to the twenty-five oldest suspensions to observe the physical condition of the building and confirm their current suspension. The IG found that the Postal Service’s suspension status information was inaccurate on all twenty-five sites.
As one example of inaccurate data, the IG cites the Norristown, GA, post office, which was suspended in 2005 and is still suspended. The IG points out that the building no longer exists — the report includes a photo of the remains of a brick structure — which would indicate that the office is permanently closed, not merely suspended. In response, the Postal Service pointed out that the IG had the wrong address. (The old post office and general store is shown at the top of this post, and it does still exist at 718 US 221 in Norristown, as seen on Google Street Views). It should be noted, however, that just because a building no longer exists does not mean the post office has closed permanently — that can only happen by completing a discontinuance process.
As another example of data reliability problems, the IG’s report says that the post office in Layton, NJ, which was suspended in 1984, is currently open, whereas the tracking system shows it as still suspended. In reply, the Postal Service pointed out that the IG had the wrong office. The correct office is the former Wallpack Center post office, a few miles away from Layton.
It’s not clear if these confusions over locations are due to errors in the Postal Service’s data base or to mistakes made by the IG, but they are not surprising. The Postal Service typically doesn’t provide the addresses of suspended post offices when it shares lists of suspensions with the PRC, and it can be difficult to determine the correct addresses of offices — as well as other data, like the cause for the suspension — for post offices suspended many years ago.
To help remedy the tracking problem, the IG recommended that the Postal Service “develop and implement formally documented quality assurance processes over the data in the post office suspension tracking system.”
In its response, dated May 1, 2023, the Postal Service said it is “currently developing and implementing an assurance processes dashboard over the Post Office suspension tracking system.” The target date for implementation is October 31, 2023.
The fact that the Postal Service is creating a dashboard to help track suspensions is noteworthy.
In February 2022 the Postal Regulatory Commission opened a Public Inquiry docket to address the backlog of suspensions, and I submitted comments recommending that the Postal Service and the Commission should work together to create a suspension dashboard that would keep the public up to date on all the suspensions in real time.
A few weeks ago, after the docket sat dormant for over a year, the PRC finally got around to following up on the inquiry by issuing an information request asking the Postal Service to describe the extent to which it is “considering creating and maintaining a publicly-available dashboard of suspended post offices.”
The Postal Service responded on May 3, 2023 — a couple of days after it told the IG that it was developing a suspension dashboard — that it “does not currently plan to create a public-facing dashboard showing the discontinuance status of suspended Post Offices…. The Postal Service questions the marginal utility of such a project, especially in light of the costs (some of them recurring) that it would entail.”
When the Postal Service submitted this response to the Commission’s information request, it was actually already working on a suspension dashboard, but it did not mention this to the Commission.
The IG’s report says that the Postal Service’s new suspension dashboard is intended “to help inform other Postal Service Headquarters’ stakeholders of the status of suspended post offices.”
It’s not clear who these stakeholders are, but they won’t include the general public or the people whose post office has been suspended. Perhaps the Commission can ask the Postal Service what its internal dashboard will contain and what would be involved in making some version of it available to the public.
— Steve Hutkins
To learn more about emergency suspensions, visit our suspension dashboard.