The Postal Service partners with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Department of State (DoS) to deliver mail to military facilities in the continental U.S. as well as military and DoS diplomatic personnel and their families outside the continental U.S. Our objective was to assess the Postal Service’s military and diplomatic mail service.
Most inbound and outbound international military and diplomatic mail arrives at the Chicago International Service Center (ISC) per a 2012 decision to consolidate operations at this facility to provide better service at a lower cost. The Chicago International Military Service Center (CIMSC) section of the facility processes most of the outbound mail, while inbound mail is sent to other processing facilities. Chicago ISC staff handle and process this mail, as well as other international and domestic mail. There are over 1,000 military ZIP Codes and 100 diplomatic ZIP Codes sorted at the CIMSC. The Postal Service processed over [redacted] military and diplomatic mailpieces in fiscal year 2018.
The Postal Service, DoD, and DoS each have responsibilities related to handling and processing this mail. For example, the Postal Service generally handles acceptance of outbound mail transported to the CIMSC, as well as initial sortation and labelling and tendering to the commercial transportation carrier (mostly air or surface). This mail is then transported to the foreign destination, where it is eventually tendered to either DoD or DoS officials, who then handle subsequent sortation and delivery.
The Postal Service’s ability to facilitate high-quality mail service is crucial to supporting military and diplomatic operations and upholding its brand and image.
What the OIG Found
Military and diplomatic outbound mail was delayed in 2018 and 2019, both going to and being processed at the Chicago CIMSC. We noted:
- Delays in getting this mail to the CIMSC: Postal Service data for a 12-week period in 2019 showed that [redacted] percent ([redacted] of [redacted]) of military and diplomatic First-Class and Priority mailpieces were late arriving to the CIMSC from its originating unit compared to its operating target. Most of these delays ([redacted] percent) were one day, while [redacted] percent ([redacted] pieces) were five days or more. These delays were due to management decisions at the originating processing facilities to defer this mail for other domestic mail, hold it until the containers were full, or other operational issues.
- Delays during acceptance operations at the CIMSC: Postal Service data showed [redacted] delayed mailings in 2018 at the CIMSC during acceptance operations — the time between mail arriving at the CIMSC and being scanned as accepted at the CIMSC. We also observed these delays during our visits. These delays, most of which were one day, were due to emphasis on other priorities, limited staff, or unavailable equipment.
- Delays in processing at the CIMSC: DoD and DoS officials raised concerns about delays in processing mail at the CIMSC between the mail being scanned as accepted at the CIMSC and being assigned to outbound transportation for its destination.
- Delays from sending the mail to the wrong delivery destination: Data showed over [redacted] parcels ([redacted] percent of total military mail) were sent to the wrong country in 2018 due to Postal Service staff errors made when labeling mail sacks. These sacks subsequently had to be rerouted to the correct destination. DoD and DoS officials noted they incurred additional costs for correctly re-routing these mailings, some of which could have been delayed by upwards of 35 days or more.
These delayed mail issues were collectively caused by ineffective oversight of operations at the facility level and exacerbated by limited performance measurement (particularly at the CIMSC). More specifically, while the Postal Service measures timeliness from the point of origin at the retail unit to acceptance at the CIMSC, it does not measure the operational time between acceptance at the CIMSC and assignment to outbound transportation for its destination. The Postal Service is unable to measure these activities because it does not scan individual pieces to larger containers — a practice known as nesting. The lack of scanning and measurement for these key processing activities results in the Postal Service not completely knowing how long it takes to process these mailings and to what extent these operations contribute to delays.
We also estimated over [redacted] damaged parcels in 2018. Damaged mail can result in the Postal Service having to repackage these mailings or dissatisfied customers who receive broken or destroyed mailings. These damaged pieces were caused by limited oversight of the following operations at the facility level:
- Insufficient culling: Postal Service staff did not cull larger, heavy mailings and process them manually, as required. We noted oversized mailings being processed on Postal Service equipment when they should have been processed manually due to size restrictions.
- Equipment shortcomings: We observed that equipment used to process military and diplomatic mail can involve drops as high as 8 feet, which may lead to broken and damaged parcels.
We also found that key administrative documents related to military and diplomatic mail operations were outdated and limited, such as:
- Publication 38 - Postal Agreement with the Department of Defense: Postal Service and DoD roles and responsibilities are outlined in this document, which has not been updated since February 1980. While management has been working for years to update this publication to reflect current operations, divergent positions on certain facets have hindered completion.
- Operating plan: The Postal Service’s operating plan for handling mail at the CIMSC is limited in that it only lists various processing times — it does not include other key operational information that would be useful to DoD and DoS stakeholders, such as staffing expectations and workload priority, which should be included in such a plan.
These issues have negatively impacted mail service received by military and diplomatic mail customers and have pushed related financial and customer service burdens onto the Postal Service, DoD, and DoS.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommend management:
- Periodically evaluate operations to provide effective management oversight of the timeliness of military and diplomatic mail to reduce delays in mail arriving to and processing within the CIMSC, as well as ensuring proper labelling of this mail.
- Evaluate a process for scanning individual pieces to larger containers and a method for using this scan data to measure the time between military and diplomatic mail being scanned as accepted and the mailings being assigned outbound transportation and prepared for departure.
- Periodically evaluate operations to provide effective oversight of the processing of military and diplomatic mail to reduce damaged mail, which could include ensuring proper culling and modifying equipment.
- Work with military stakeholders to update Publication 38 and with military and diplomatic stakeholders to update the operating plan related to military and diplomatic mail at the CIMSC.