The image of the auditor sitting in front of a stack of spreadsheets, with a trusty calculator at the ready, is right out of central casting. So is the investigator on round-the-clock surveillance to uncover fraud or misuse of government funds.

Those techniques have their place, of course, but today’s audits and investigations rely heavily on data analytics and risk models. At the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), we have invested in building an analytical, evidence-based culture that depends on data to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.

The analytic tools we use help our auditors and investigators identify the root cause of a problem and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete an investigation or audit. These tools also help us focus on areas with the highest risk, and thus the biggest payout. All of this significantly increases the return on investment of our work.

Four recently released audits highlight how we are using a tool known as risk models to identify financial anomalies by looking for specific behaviors and patterns that are strong indicators of improper activity. In particular, these risk models were looking for financial anomalies that occurred at field units. 

The audits looked at the “internal controls” around various aspects of post offices’ operations, such as retail sales transactions or local purchases and payments, to make sure funds were not being wasted or misused.

For example, we audited the Pottstown, PA, Post Office after a risk model determined it had made about $38,000 in local purchases and payments using no-fee money orders in fiscal year 2016. The Postal Service’s preferred payment method for paying for goods and services is its electronic purchasing system. A no-fee money order, not to exceed $1,000, is actually the third option and only to be used as a one-time emergency.

The risk model helped us identify opportunities for the Postal Service to improve processes and implement internal controls to make sure all personnel use the preferred payment method for purchase.

The three other audits also found opportunities to strengthen internal controls. Two of the audits looked at variances in financial activities at particular post offices (the James A. Farley Station in New York City, and the Cardiss Collins Postal Store in Chicago.) The third focused on retail sales transactions at the Norman, OK, Main Office.

Have you used data analytics in your work? If so, how has it helped you? What data analytics do you think could be used to oversee Postal Service operations and performance?

 

Comments (3)

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  • anon

    Only comment I have as a carrier when you bring back cash money that not been recorded right then and there on your account sheet you have to walk over and give it to the mgr at AMC Memphis's and no one gives you a receipt for you bring back in as cash mgr can easy pocket that money for their personal used just well as the USPS manager credit card when they allowed someone to go purchased items with the USPS credit card for that station there is slot of abused for different station in the city of Memphis you allow the custodian to go buy ten cans of air freshener there need to be a guideline on purchasing products for a station every station should have an orderly form when buy stuff instead of you running to the store with manager USPS credit card to buy certain things they want for that station yes there is slot of abused and wastes but that something USPS need to tighten up on

    Mar 26, 2017
  • anon

    The United States Postal Service Sucks!!!!! Lee Young Lee Young I have been tracking information on an important document to my daughter in Maryland and it has been delayed for four days now. Anyone reading this, use UPS for your deliveries. I paid extra for this document and there is nothing to indicate when the package will be delivered. The system showed that it was delayed. Hell, I know that it is delayed, I am tracking the package. Ya'll are morons. Like · Reply · 1 · 46 mins Lee Young Lee Young This is the third time I have had to deal with USPS which stand for Unusually Stupid Postal Service. GO United Postal Service (UPS). They are the people in the brown uniforms. The United States Postal Service. Go UPS... Like · Reply · 37 mins

    Mar 23, 2017
  • anon

    ERM is being required by OMB Circular A-123, so enterprise risk should be more prevalent and should assist the OIG. However, as to your getting at the root cause of mail delay in Roanoke, the report of maintaining CCA, PSE and MHA or the Phoenix report on Continual Improvement demonstrate, you are missing the fundamentals. Mail delays are primarily being cause by two factors, reduced staffing and the added time it take to process parcels. Time motion studies similar to the efficiency studies of the 1950's would demonstrate this and move USPS up fifty years in it management processes. The CCA, PSE and MHA issue is still related to culture and the stress of making time lines which are unrealistic and do not take into account the added time to handle parcels. Thus, saying make the numbers or stick to your plan is like a crack dealer, who himself is an addict saying to her have some more. Finally, the lack of continual improvement is cultural based. The USPS culture is not one which encourages or rewards continual improvement. In fact, most of the management staff seek to be in the middle. The do not strive to be in the top out front. My station manager has told his boss, in fact, that he did not want to be on a Lean Team and was forced into the Green Belt process. He does not believe in it, because his boss does not believe in it. Thus, there is no incentive to use it. Going back to the time motion issue. Take a hand truck, a carrier bag, pen, paper and a stop watch. Go to 010. Click the stop watch, pick up twenty letters. Walk twenty feet, Turn around and come back. Drop the letters, Click the stop watch. Write the time down. Do the same thing for small parcels and then NMOs. Compare the times. Which takes more time parcels or letters? Another example, go load and unload a ProMaster. One of my carriers came in with her ProMaster loaded completely full. There was only room for a thin flat at the top. Another example, take five boxes. only two of which can fit on a hand truck. That means three trips. Think about where in a business those boxes are located for the carrier to pick up. How far away the carrier has to travel with those boxes to get to their vehicle and the consider the added time. Another example of the out of kilter nature of postal measures. The emphasis of the statistical unit is on flats and letters. Take a hard and objective look at the percentage of time the statistical units are spending on tracking letters, flats and junk mail, versus parcels. Then ask yourself, which of those categories are increasing and which are decreasing. Finally, go look are whether parcels are being scanned by the carriers. Not just what is drop off, but also what percentage is being picked up. If you do not know what is being picked up, how can to evaluate or forecast accurately need and risk?

    Mar 21, 2017

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