Due to its unreliable tracking system, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) may be delivering your mail even more slowly than it has claimed, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
After increasing its own long-time 2-day delivery standard for First-Class mail to 3-days in January, 2015, the cash-starved USPS proceeded to close or consolidate 82 mail processing plants nationwide over the objections of all 50 U.S. Senators.
See: Why for Mail Delivery 'Slow' is the New 'Normal'
The effects of those actions revealed themselves in August 2015, when a federal inspector general notified the USPS that the number of First-Class letters being delivered at least a day late had increased by 48% in the first 6 months of 2015 alone.
Mail May be Even Slower, GAO Finds
But lowered standards or not, the GAO's investigators reported that the Postal Service's system for tracking and reporting delivery time is too incomplete and unreliable to determine how late the mail really is being delivered.
According to GAO auditors, the reports created by the USPS's mail delivery tracking system “do not include sufficient analysis to hold USPS accountable for meeting its statutory mission to provide service in all areas of the nation.”
In fact, the GAO found that the USPS' system tracks the delivery times of only 55% of First-Class mail, Standard-Class mail, periodicals, and packages. Delivery times of mail without tracking barcodes are not reported.
“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,” stated the GAO. “Complete performance information enables effective management, oversight, and accountability.”
In other words, the USPS doesn't know exactly how slow its mail delivery service has become.
Spreading the Blame
The GAO also placed some blame on the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the presidentially appointed body responsible for overseeing Postal Service operations.
Specifically the GAO criticized the PRC for failing to determine why the USPS's delivery time tracking data are not complete and dependable. “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,” GAO investigators wrote.
While the PRC has the power to direct the USPS to improve its delivery time tracking system, it has so far failed to do so, noted the GAO.
Meanwhile, in Rural America
The GAO also pointed out that the USPS is not required to - and so does not - track or report delivery time data for mail sent to rural addresses.
While several members of Congress have pressured the USPS to study and report on its rural delivery performance, postal officials have stated that doing so would be too costly. However, as the GAO pointed out, the USPS has never provided Congress with cost estimates to prove it. “Such cost information would be useful for Congress to assess whether developing this information would be appropriate,” wrote the GAO.
In 2011, the PRC criticized the USPS for failing to adequately consider the impact of its still on-hold plan to end Saturday mail delivery on rural America.
“As my colleagues and I have heard… mail service across the country, particularly in rural communities, is suffering,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware) chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the USPS in a statement on the GAO report.
“To fix these service problems, we need to figure out their root causes,” Carper continued. “Unfortunately, the GAO found the delivery performance results that the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission provide do not give Congress or postal customers an accurate assessment of service.”
What the GAO Recommended
The GAO suggested that Congress “direct” the USPS to provide reliable estimates of its costs to report on mail delivery performance in rural areas. The GAO also called on the USPS and PRC to improve the “completeness, analysis, and transparency” of its mail delivery performance reports.
While the USPS generally agreed with the GAO's recommendations, it also noted that it “strongly disagrees with the conclusion that our current service performance measurement is not accurate.” So, like your mail, don't expect the results to be delivered anytime soon.