Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of the Postal Service’s Secure Destruction program.
The Secure Destruction program is one of the Postal Service’s key environmental sustainability initiatives. The Postal Service developed the program with commercial mailers (mailers) in 2014 to facilitate more efficient, secure, and environmentally responsible handling of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. This mail could not be delivered for reasons including illegible addresses, individuals or businesses which have moved, or unknown addressees.
The Postal Service reported nearly 5.3 billion pieces of UAA mail in fiscal year (FY) 2020. When UAA mail is identified, it is either forwarded, returned to sender, or treated as waste depending on the mail class and service specifications. Handling this mail cost the Postal Service over $1.3 billion in FY 2020.
Under the Secure Destruction program, UAA First-Class letters and flats for participating mailers are securely shredded and recycled at designated Postal Service facilities. All other UAA First-Class mailings that cannot be forwarded are returned to the senders, which can be more costly and inconvenient for both the mailers and the Postal Service.
The Postal Service reported Secure Destruction volumes of over 151 million pieces from 143 mailers in FY 2020. The largest participant in FY 2020 was the U.S. Census Bureau, which accounted for over 40 percent of total program volume, followed by the Postal Service with 8 percent of total program volume. Secure Destruction FY 2020 volumes nearly doubled compared to FY 2019 volumes, mostly due to the 2020 census mailings.
The Postal Service provides electronic data to participating mailers daily, showing the mailpieces of theirs that were identified for Secure Destruction. We surveyed program participants on the Secure Destruction program and received limited responses.
The Postal Service could improve its performance evaluation, communication, and marketing of the Secure Destruction program to enhance the program’s effectiveness.
The Postal Service’s performance evaluation of this program was limited due to shortcomings in the tracking and reporting across key workhour, revenue, and volume metrics, as follows:
- Workhours: Postal Service staff did not accurately record Secure Destruction operational workhours. No workhours were logged at over half (42 of 69) of Secure Destruction facilities in FY 2020 and workhour data that was recorded did not align with processed volumes. For example, a facility that processed 3.5 million pieces in FY 2020 showed only 1.75 workhours. These deficiencies occurred because management and staff did not comply with workhour recording requirements.
- Revenue: The Postal Service did not report any revenue generated from the sale of recyclable material from the 151 million pieces in FY 2020. The Postal Service originally projected the program would generate $2.6 million in revenue over a 10-year period from the sale of the recycled paper. The lack of revenue reporting occurred because the Postal Service did not implement a process for regularly tracking or reporting revenue generated from the recycling of shredded paper resulting from Secure Destruction. During our audit, management provided a revenue estimate of over $25,000 from Secure Destruction in FY 2020. While we recognize this one-time calculation, regularly tracking program-specific revenue should remain a part of overall performance evaluation.
- Volume: The Postal Service does not track the number (volume) of UAA mailpieces removed during the manual verification process at the respective Secure Destruction facilities. This occurred because the Postal Service lacked a standardized process for tracking these rejected pieces. This shortcoming limits the Postal Service’s ability to understand the number of pieces removed during manual verification and the overall effectiveness of these related operations.
Continued deficiencies in tracking and reporting program performance across key workhour, revenue, and volume metrics hinder the Postal Service’s ability to accurately evaluate program performance.
The Postal Service did not always effectively communicate with current program participants. Postal Service officials stated that their communication approach included contacting individual mailers when an issue arose or posting information to the Secure Destruction website.
Our ability to assess the effectiveness of this communication approach by surveying participants was somewhat limited by problems with the accuracy of email addresses. Of the participant email addresses the Postal Service provided, we found some that were non-valid or incorrect. Postal Service officials recognized that participant contact information was outdated and stated that limited resources and competing priorities resulted in the inability to complete annual reviews of this information. Of those who responded to our specific survey question on the Postal Service’s program-related communication effectiveness, over half reported a generally positive view, along with some negative results.
We also found the Postal Service did not have a defined communication strategy for periodically reaching out to all program participants to notify them of program performance, issues, challenges, and developments. The lack of a defined, periodic communication strategy for reaching out to all participants and outdated participant contact information hindered participant engagement.
The Postal Service did not effectively market or promote the Secure Destruction program. Postal Service officials stated their marketing and promoting initiatives included the Secure Destruction website, a booth at the annual National Postal Forum, and use of operational partners to directly market the program to their clients.
We asked a specific survey question about the effectiveness of the Postal Service’s program-related marketing and promotion. Of the 25 who responded to this specific question, only six replied with favorable views of the Postal Service’s marketing and promotion of the program, with others providing concerning responses like:
- “Many of our clients are not aware of this program.”
- “I have seen no marketing on this.”
- “USPS needs to do a little more promoting.”
We also contacted seven district Marketing managers across the country as they are officials who could play a key role in localized marketing and promotion efforts about the program. None of them reported a role in promoting the program and two were not aware of the program.
Addressing these performance evaluation, communication, and marketing issues could help capture additional efficiencies and revenue and improve program participation and effectiveness.
We recommended management:
- Ensure staff are complying with Secure Destruction workhour recording requirements.
- Implement a process for regularly tracking and reporting revenue generated from recycling shredded paper from Secure Destruction.
- Evaluate standardizing the process for tracking and reporting on pieces removed during manual verification, including associated benefits and costs.
- Develop a defined communication strategy to periodically contact program participants to notify them of program performance, issues, challenges, and developments; and ensure that annual reviews of participant contact information are completed.
- Develop a comprehensive strategy for marketing and promoting the Secure Destruction program to potential new participants.