Executive Summary

Due to the impact of first‑line supervisors on Postal Service operations, the OIG sought to gain an understanding of the structure, footprint within the organization, and investments made in first‑line supervisors. As such, key human capital and performance data related to first‑line supervisors was examined to assess patterns of historical performance, evaluate comparability across various categories, and identify relationships between first‑line supervisors and key performance metrics. This white paper provides the results of our assessment, including analyses of key operational, performance, and cost metrics that impact Postal Service operations.


The Postal Service delivers mail to more addresses, in a larger geographical area, than any other post in the world. On average, each day in fiscal year (FY) 2018, the Postal Service processed and delivered 493 million pieces to 159 million delivery points, while serving about 4 million customers in its delivery and retail locations. To meet this demand, the Postal Service has a network of over 620,000 employees at more than 34,000 facilities nationwide.

Like any organization, employees are instrumental in ensuring the Postal Service meets its goals and objectives – ultimately getting mail to customers. With labor costs (including compensation and benefits, unfunded retirement benefits, retiree health benefits, and worker compensation) constituting about 76 percent of the Postal Service’s operating expenses, employee management has a significant impact on both the operations and financial condition of the organization. To effectively manage a workforce of the Postal Service’s size, there needs to be a strong organizational structure and appropriate investments made in the supervisor ranks.

In general, a supervisor is responsible for the productivity and actions of a small group of employees. Within the Postal Service, supervisors play a significant role in ensuring that customers receive quality service and that mail and parcels are received on time and in good condition. To drill-down further, a first‑line supervisor has direct responsibility for ensuring that employees accomplish their work. For this white paper, a first‑line supervisor is defined as the first layer of management directly above the craft employee.


As of September 28, 2018, there were 22,827 first‑line supervisors at the Postal Service. For the purposes of our work, we focused only on customer service, distribution, maintenance, and transportation operations supervisors located in delivery/retail and processing facilities. This includes 18,433 permanent supervisors and 4,394 acting supervisors1 detailed into the position for a limited period to perform supervisory duties and responsibilities. Of these 22,827 first‑line supervisors:

   ■ Seventy-two percent (16,531 of 22,827) were customer service supervisors who managed customer service and delivery operations, and

   ■ Twenty-eight percent (6,296 of 22,827) were processing supervisors who managed processing and distribution operations.

Postal Service first‑line supervisors are at the core of bringing operations together, maintaining financial viability, managing a geographically dispersed workforce, and promoting trust of the customers. In FY 2018, the Postal Service’s first‑line supervisor workhours made up three percent of the total workhours incurred; however, they managed 76 percent of the total workhours, and 84 percent of total overtime hours incurred. This translates to the first‑line supervisor directly managing over $21.6 billion in incurred workhours and an additional $4.5 billion in total overtime costs in FY 2018.

As first‑line supervisors have a significant impact on employees, from engagement to grievance activity, having the right organizational structure and a sufficient span of control is imperative. As the number of first‑line supervisors have increased over a five-year period, the number of employees they manage has slightly decreased over that period. This indicates that first‑line supervisors are managing fewer employees, reducing and possibly strengthening the overall span of control.

Following the issuance of this white paper, the OIG plans to conduct further audit work to assess strategies and programs in place related to first‑line supervisor hiring and retention, training and development, and performance.

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Comments (7)

  • anon

    Many first line supervisors lack integrity. I have proof.

    Jan 03, 2020
  • anon

    Same here, i see supervisors hiding mail, changing color tags on mail, cursing at employees.

    Nov 23, 2020
  • anon

    People invest in their homes, to keep the value high. People also invest in themselves though education. We sacrifice our time and income now in hopes of a payoff later. If we want to retain good supervisors we need to invest in continuous training. What else can we do? We need to understand there in not an appropriate work/life balance. Many are working long hours to keep up with the workload. We need to be aware that burnout leads to fake numbers and pencil whipping. We will never be efficient unless we grasp this understanding. But wait there is more. Do we attract the best people? We need to promote educated and unselfish leaders? Does our current system do this? People who demonstrate leadership ability and continuous self-improvement are a must. If we want the best, we have to pay them appropriately. Trying to save money might end up costing us more. Factor in the cost of low morale that can be correlated with sick leave abuse, OWCP claims, medical retirement, etc. Are we saving money, or are we spending a dollar by trying to save a nickel? IMO we have not found the right balance to maximize profit. IMO Lean 6 ideology is being taken too far. Lean 6 has turned into Skeleton 6. The numbers might look good on paper, but it’s costing us and not showing up because it’s difficult to measure the cost of low morale.

    Dec 22, 2019
  • anon

    Really, You don't need to read this, just ask any carrier about Supervisors. Supervisors can continually write you up for anything, and when they lose, are not penalized and pay out $$$ because they can't follow a simple contract that hasn't changed in decades, Can leave the late collection mail in the office overnight and even when caught, nothing happens. Don't even get me started about all the faked scans using old clerks scanners that don't have gps. Falsifying the mail has all been delivered, when it hasn't been, and then sending out cca's the next morning at 6am to deliver last nights mail, because they don't want carriers out past some magical time like 6pm, or else the poom will get upset with them on the con the next day. Very funny they are considered customer service rep's. Our Sup wants us to fill out Section J on our 3996, but it clearly says to OMIT during the holiday season. And this from a SUP, who carried the mail for over 20 years, NOT!!!!

    Dec 14, 2019
  • anon

    I wanted to submit a very brief field summary/comment regarding this White paper. Let me first say that I applaud the Office of Inspection Service for taking on this task. I feel this is a Very Good “starting point” for all the obvious reason stated in your research. Here’s where I have concern, although the information is actionable and comes at a cost, I’m concern that this information will struggle to penetrate downward to the levels were appropriate. Our large facilities (Supervisors and Postmasters) where we have large customer traffic and larger pools of employees are in dire need of information and training to aid in depolarizing the existing trends. I cite this demographic due to the fact that they have the largest impact to our organizational brand and financial footprint. During this time, the US Postal Service “our” Service has to align itself with the white paper findings and develop required actions, we have a retention obligation to our young employees’ and service obligation to the existing customer base. I will share and continue reading the 27 page white paper. Thanks for the start……

    Dec 13, 2019
  • anon

    1st line supervisor are a very important part of the puzzle. Level 20 offices have the same duties and are jmeasured just like a level 21 and above, however we don't meet the credits for a supervisor. the tasks have changed over time and therefore the Supervisor work credits also needs to change to provide the correct earn time.

    Dec 13, 2019
  • anon

    As a retired MPOO that was in that position many years, the people that really managed USPS were supervisors, station managers, and postmasters. Most of the rest of us were "fluff" compared to them. The supervisors received less pay than the people they managed. They catch it from every direction. Do whatever you can do to help supervisors with better pay and better support.

    Dec 12, 2019