Our objective was to determine the cause of delayed mail at the Lehigh Valley, PA, Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC).
The Postal Service considers mail to be delayed when it is not processed in time to meet the established delivery day.
In January 2019, the Postal Service launched the Mail Condition Visualization (MCV) application within Informed Visibility to provide near real-time visibility of a facility’s on-hand, advanced, and delayed volumes. MCV uses sorting machine scans of mailpiece barcodes and calculates delayed mail based on the number of mailpieces that did not receive the next expected processing operation scan on-time.
We selected the Lehigh Valley P&DC for audit because from January 1, 2019, to August 31, 2020, MCV reported about 605 million delayed mailpieces, or 32.2 percent of the total pieces handled at this facility. We reviewed operations with the most delayed mail — Delivery Point Sequence totaling about 476 million (or 78.7 percent) and Managed Mail Program (hereafter refer to as managed mail) incoming letters totaling 67.7 million (or 11.2 percent). Delivery Point Sequence is an automated process of sorting mail by carrier routes into delivery order and managed mail originating from other processing locations that requires additional processing at a destinating facility before delivery.
A portion of the audit scope and our site observations occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Postal Service experienced decreased employee availability and increased package volume during this time, which impacted operations nationwide.
We were unable to determine all of the causes for the delayed mail reported in MCV at the Lehigh Valley P&DC as detailed scan information such as the operation where the delay occurred only has the ability to be downloaded for one day. However, the delayed mail numbers as reported for this facility were inaccurate because mail flows were not followed and as a result, critical scans were missed. During our site observations on October 5-8, 2020, MCV reported 151,671 pieces of managed mail as delayed for the facility; however, we did not find any delayed mail remaining at the facility after processing clearance times. We were unable to account for the difference between the delays reported by MCV and our physical observations.
Lehigh Valley P&DC management was not processing the managed mail according to its designed flow, which caused MCV to improperly report that volume as delayed mail. In addition, while we were not able to determine how much of the managed mail was reported as delayed in MCV, we found some of this mail was arriving late from other facilities, putting it at risk of not being delivered on time. Further, while it did not directly contribute to delayed mail at the facility, the Lehigh Valley P&DC did not have an updated operating plan.
Lehigh Valley P&DC management was not following Postal Service Headquarters guidance for the designed flow of managed mail. Instead, the facility was processing this mail on a sort plan which resulted in it being sent to delivery units without all processing operations at the facility being completed. This resulted in the MCV application not accurately reporting delayed mail for processing operations including Delivery Point Sequence and incoming managed mail letters at the facility. When a mail piece does not receive an expected operational scan, MCV will report it as delayed. As a result, management was unable to accurately determine the actual amount of delayed mail at the Lehigh Valley P&DC.
Further, the Lehigh Valley P&DC received managed mail from other facilities after the critical entry time, which is the last time mail can be received and processed on-time to meet service standards. Plant management was aware of the late arriving mail and communicated with the respective facilities from which this mail originated but did not identify the root causes or take action to resolve the issue. This mail was at risk of not being delivered on-time, which can adversely affect Postal Service customers, harm the brand, send mailers to competitors, or cause the Postal Service to lose revenue.
Lastly, Lehigh Valley P&DC management has not updated their operating plan since September 26, 2016. Postal Service policy requires operating plans to be reviewed and approved yearly. An operating plan is the blueprint that details operations in a facility, such as volume, start times, and scheduled end times for all major operations, to ensure that the critical entry times and clearance times of each operation can be met. While an updated operating plan is critical for operations, we did not observe the outdated operating plan contributing to delayed mail at the Lehigh Valley P&DC.
We recommended management:
- Distribute training to all mail processing managers and process late arriving Managed Mail Program mail in accordance with guidance, so it is accurately reported in the Mail Condition Visualization application.
- Identify and address the root causes of the late arriving Managed Mail Program to the Lehigh Valley P&DC.
- Update and submit the Lehigh Valley P&DCoperating plan to the Area for approval and communicate the revised, approved operating plan to facility personnel.