• on Mar 17th, 2014 in OIG | 2 comments

    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

    So said former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who could be considered a forefather of Sunshine Week. No, not some Spring Break in Florida for government workers, but an annual initiative held the week of James Madison’s birthday to promote open and transparent government. The term “operating in the sunshine” means conducting business in a for-all-to-see way that enlightens and empowers people to play an active role in their government – one of the key elements of a democracy. Sunshine also serves to curb misdeeds or abuse.

    The sunshine concept took many years to evolve. It gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, when news reports of federal abuses and “enemies lists” prompted Congress to pass legislation to open up government to greater public view. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Privacy Act were some of the products of a push for good government.

    Another sunshine initiative was the 1978 Inspector General Act, which created IGs in 12 of the largest federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud and misconduct in agency programs and to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. The law has been amended over the years to increase the number of agencies with IGs to 73, including the Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service in 1996. Right off the bat, we took the concepts of openness and transparency to heart. Shortly after setting up the agency, we launched a website and started publishing reports online. In fact, we’ve posted so many reports on our website that you would have to comb through 143 pages of summaries just to find them all. (Fortunately, we have a search function that makes it easy to find what you want.)

    We created a webpage to notify stakeholders of audit projects before they start so we can gain your insights on those projects. We launched this very blog 5+ years ago to open a dialogue with you on issues affecting the Postal Service. Finally, we have fielded lots of FOIA requests, – formal, written requests for records maintained by the OIG. We handled 36 in FY 1998. Last year, that number topped 600 formal FOIA and Privacy Act requests; more than 4,500 total in our 18-year history.

    At a time when the future direction of the Postal Service is at stake, how government does business is of heightened public interest. (The Postal Service is considered part of the government.) And that is arguably at the root of the sunshine concept. It’s your government; you are entitled to know how it is carrying out its mission.

  • on Jan 20th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 4 comments

    Add “upkeep of postal facilities” to the list of tasks that get increasingly difficult to do under a budget crunch. Yet, Americans are passionate about their post offices, so it seems maintenance should be a priority.

    However, the U.S. Postal Service’s financial challenges have made it hard to maintain facilities. During fiscal years 2009-2012, the Postal Service experienced a $382 million decrease in its budget for facility repairs, alterations, and capital improvements, resulting in incomplete repairs or unmet capital improvements. Our recent audit report found about half of the incomplete repairs represent safety or security issues and potential future major repairs. 

    Future costs for these unfunded repairs could reach $1.4 billion. In addition, our work determined that some of these repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.

    The Postal Service operates 32,000 facilities throughout the country with 280 million square feet of space, and it includes post offices, mail processing facilities, and annexes. The Postal Service’s Facilities Department says employees and customers are not in danger, as it prioritizes repairs based on the safety and security of Postal Service property. Still, the Postal Service’s capital spending freeze initiated in 2009 has clearly had an impact on the ability to upgrade and repair facilities. The Postal Service spent 29 percent below the industry average on facility repairs in FY 2012. Lower priority repairs and improvements are less likely to occur, potentially leading to a longer-term cost.

    Our audit found the Postal Service lacking in developing a strategy to complete all necessary repairs and it did not always accurately prioritize repairs. We recommended it develop a strategy, reallocate funds to complete repairs, and reconcile its prioritization list annually.

    We welcome your thoughts.

    • How best can the Postal Service make the necessary repairs to its facilities while operating under budget constraints?
    • Will people be interested in buying or leasing Postal Service buildings that haven't been well maintained? Or could it affect the value of the properties?
    • Are there issues other than decreased funding that prevent the Postal Service from completing necessary repairs? 
  • on Jan 13th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 4 comments

    What if the U.S. Postal Service tapped the vast array of available digital information technologies to enhance sales, operations, and new business development? The possibilities, it would seem, while not endless, are fairly extensive.

    That’s the conclusion of a just-released white paper from the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), which collaborated with IBM to take a high-level view of digital information gathering to see where the postal industry might benefit. The white paper, Enriching Postal Information: Applications for Tomorrow’s Technologies, identifies those opportunities most relevant to the postal industry. We found more than 50 potential postal applications where gathering digital information could enhance the Postal Service’s sales, operations, and new product development, as well as improve its internal safety and security controls. Such items include banking services, traffic information, and assistance to elderly citizens.

    A few highlights from the paper:

    • Cutting-edge organizations see digital information technology only as a means to satisfy market demands and control costs. Such organizations are focusing on mobile handhelds, barcodes, and Radio Frequency Identification applications to collect data about their customers and operations. Many are consistently researching and investing in a wide variety of information gathering technologies. For example, UPS invests more than $1 billion annually to design customer-centric applications, customized scanning tools, and advanced communication devices, as well as, to increase internal efficiencies.
    • The Postal Service is also exploring the potential of mobile devices but on a much smaller scale than UPS. For example, the Postal Service recently gave cell phones capable of texting and gathering real-time GPS data to about 95 percent of its street letter carriers. The information being collected should improve delivery efficiencies via better route designs, day-to-day adjustments, and monitoring delivery times. The Postal Service is planning to deploy 75,000 full-service digital mobile carrier devices by the summer of 2014.

    So what information would you like the Postal Service to gather for you? How would you put it to use? Are there any areas of information technology that concern you? 

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