Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of plant load agreements in the Santa Ana District. We selected this district based on volume and revenue declines from fiscal year (FY) 2018 to FY 2019, totaling 190 million pieces (22 percent) and $37.5 million (18 percent).
Plant load agreements are special arrangements between the U.S. Postal Service and certain commercial mailers. Mailers interested in establishing a plant load agreement must already have a Postal Service-approved detached mail unit (DMU) at their mailer facility, wherein a Postal Service clerk is on-site performing mail verification, acceptance, dispatch, and other related functions. Mail is then transported from the DMU to a Postal Service facility for acceptance and processing.
Once a DMU is established, plant load agreements can then be requested by these mailers whereby the mailer agrees to provide certain amounts of mail volumes and weights at a certain level of sortation. In exchange, the Postal Service provides acceptance and, for some agreements, transportation from the DMU to the Postal Service’s destination facility.
The Postal Service benefits from plant load agreements as they allow mail to bypass handling at Postal Service facilities—which reduces processing time, staffing, and loading dock space requirements at Postal Service facilities—and fosters positive relationships with its mailers.
There are three types of plant load agreements, which are differentiated by the distance the mail travels and whether the Postal Service or customer provides the transportation. These three types of agreements are known as intra-district, inter-district, and expedited. The Santa Ana District had eight plant load agreements as of December 2019— three intra-district and five expedited.
A District Plant Load Committee, established by the district manager, is responsible for addressing plant load related issues and reviewing each plant load application, which includes the completion of the Postal Service’s internal cost analysis.
We completed our fieldwork 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 Santa Ana District was not effectively approving, monitoring, or retaining copies of its plant load agreements. Agreements were approved with incomplete information, there was insufficient monitoring of plant load volumes and weights, and prior plant load agreement documents were not retained. As a result, there is reduced assurance that these agreements are financially beneficial to the Postal Service. Specifically:
- Agreements Approved with Incomplete Information: The three current intra-district agreements were approved without required cost analysis and supporting documentation. This information is necessary to assess the financial and operational impact of each agreement. In addition, one expedited agreement was approved before receiving required stakeholder signatures.
- Insufficient Monitoring of Plant Load Volumes and Weights: Two of the three intra-district agreements did not meet the minimum mail volume or weight requirements during our tests and observations. One of the mailers we observed had 86 pounds of First-Class Mail being transported by a Postal Vehicle Service when the minimum mail weight requirement for an intra-district plant load agreement is 8,000 pounds per trip.
- Document Retention – Prior Plant Load Agreements: The district did not retain copies of any of the eight authorized agreements that pre-dated the current December 2019 agreements. Postal Service policy states these agreements must be retained for two years from the expiration date of the plant load agreement.
These issues occurred because the district did not provide sufficient oversight over these agreements. Specifically, the district did not establish a Plant Load Committee, as required, to oversee the approval and monitoring of these agreements. District management stated that it was not established because plant load agreement issues are discussed in weekly district meetings. In addition, the district did not have procedures outlined to monitor performance or maintain prior agreements.
Until these issues are addressed, the Postal Service is at risk of incurring unnecessary transportation and DMU clerk labor costs of $217,992 annually.
We recommend the district manager:
- Reassess each plant load agreement for compliance with applicable requirements, including ensuring that each agreement contains complete information and all required signatures, and take appropriate actions as needed (for example, either cancel or update the agreement).
- Establish a Plant Load Committee to review each plant load application and address related issues.
- Develop procedures for monitoring mail volume, weight, and preparation performance in accordance with requirements set forth in the plant load agreements.
- Develop procedures for ensuring the retention of expired plant load agreements.