Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of the Postal Service’s management controls for arrow keys.
The Postal Service uses a universal key, known as an arrow key, to access collection boxes, outdoor parcel lockers, cluster box units, and apartment panels. Supervisors assign these keys – generally one per route – to letter carriers for use on over 300,000 delivery and collection routes each day. Carriers and collectors must always keep arrow keys secured and attached to their belts or clothing by a chain while on duty and return them at the end of each day.
Supervisors are required to manually document the issuance and collection of keys each day using Postal Service Form 1628, Individual Key Record. Each facility must also maintain an inventory log to account for all keys and conduct a semiannual inventory review in January and July.
Employees must report missing, lost, or stolen keys to the Postal Inspection Service immediately. Employees order new keys electronically using the eBuy system. Management restricts ordering capabilities to approved users including postmasters, officers-in-charge, and station managers.
Our fieldwork was completed before the President of the United States issued the national emergency declaration concerning the novel coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19) on March 13, 2020. The results of this audit do not reflect process and/or operational changes that may have occurred as a result of the pandemic.
The Postal Service’s management controls over arrow keys were ineffective. Specifically, the number of arrow keys in circulation is unknown, and local units did not adequately report lost, stolen, or broken keys or maintain key inventories. Further, the Postal Service did not restrict the number of replacement arrow keys that could be ordered. Ineffective controls over arrow keys increases the risk that these items will be lost or stolen and not detected.
These issues occurred because:
- Postal Service policies do not require a master key inventory, which would include all keys issued by the supplier and reflect keys reported as lost, stolen, or broken by the units. Semiannual reconciliation to a master inventory by units would provide enhanced accountability and security over these keys.
- Postal Service policy did not establish a maximum number of key quantities for ordering replacement keys and the number of unassigned keys a site should maintain in inventory.
- The eBuy system did not have automated controls to prevent sites from ordering large quantities of arrow keys.
New technology and innovation opportunities exist with keyless locking and key tracking to improve management controls over arrow keys. The Postal Service has tested some technologies, including key cabinets in Pacific Area facilities, which were used to automate the daily issuance and collection of arrow keys.
Additional technology such as keyless lock options could utilize electronic keypads and fingerprint readers. Key tracking options, which could significantly reduce the amount of manual daily tracking, include Radio Frequency Identification and barcodes with built-in tracking intelligence.
Keyless lock options and key tracking can operate as standalone solutions that do not require broadband capability, which may not always be available in certain areas. Incorporating new technology and innovations could reduce the time to manage keys daily and increase the security over the keys. Overall, this could significantly reduce the risk associated with lost or stolen arrow keys and enhance the security of mail receptacles.
The Postal Service issued a Standard Work Instruction for Arrow Locks and Keys dated April 2020 and updated the eBuy system to require requisitioners to provide justification when ordering arrow keys in eBuy. In addition, requisitioners must add required approving officials to place the order. These controls will provide additional oversight and, as a result, we will not make a recommendation regarding these issues.
We recommended Vice President, Delivery Operations:
- Create and maintain a nationwide arrow key inventory and ensure units reconcile their local inventory semiannually to ensure key accountability.
- Develop and issue guidance regarding a maximum key quantity for ordering replacement keys and the number of unassigned keys a site should maintain in inventory.
- Evaluate technology solutions and take appropriate action to reduce risks associated with lost or stolen arrow keys and enhance the security of mail receptacles.