Background

Nearly 584,000 business mailers and business mail acceptance employees use the U.S. Postal Service’s PostalOne!-Business Customer Support System (PostalOne!-BCSS) to enter postage statements, deposits, and other financial transactions needed to process and manage business mail. PostalOne!-BCSS is a complex system that interfaces with 45 other Postal Service systems. During fiscal year (FY) 2015, the Postal Service processed about 14 million transactions and generated over $40.9 billion in revenue through Postal One!-BCSS, which was a majority of the $68.9 billion of total Postal Service revenue.

Management’s goal is to have the system available to users 99.95 percent of the time. The chief information officer (CIO) scorecard provides the status of system availability.

Management monitors PostalOne!-BCSS availability by continuously checking the system status for internal and external user access. Outages can result from application, hardware, configuration, or network issues. According to the PostalOne!-BCSS contingency plan, the Postal Service should notify all users and instruct them to use a manual contingency plan when the system is unavailable; which requires data to be subsequently entered when the system becomes available. The Postal Service has contracts with outside vendors to provide monitoring and support for PostalOne!-BCSS.

Our objective was to determine the effectiveness of support for PostalOne!-BCSS operational availability.

What the OIG Found

Management is not effectively supporting and managing PostalOne!-BCSS availability and needs to improve the process for notifying all users of PostalOne!-BCSS outages. Based on reported outages, the Postal Service also does not maintain consistent records to track outages and the unavailability of PostalOne!-BCSS.

PostalOne!-BCSS did not consistently meet its daily 99.95 percent availability goal during FY 2015. We identified 22 reported instances where the daily average availability percentage ranged from 76.03 to 99.92 percent.

Additionally, the CIO scorecard did not accurately reflect actual system availability status because it excluded blackout maintenance hours, which should have been included according to best practices.

Specifically, we reviewed 61 of the 252 FY 2015 CIO scorecards that reflected 100 percent availability, and determined the reported availability percentages would have been significantly lower if the blackout maintenance hours were included in the calculations. In addition, downtime for PostalOne!-BCSS exceeded recommended industry best practices by about 1,135 hours.

We also determined an effective communication process was not in place for notifying all users when PostalOne!-BCSS is unavailable. The PostalOne! Help Desk notified less than 1 percent of users in FY 2015 when the system was not available. Finally, required information technology clauses related to monitoring and support were not included in PostalOne!-BCSS contracts.

These issues occurred because there is no formal process for mitigating and resolving systemic issues affecting PostalOne!-BCSS availability and because management does not execute all testing phases of software development. We recommended management execute all testing phases of software development in a prior audit report; therefore, we did not make a recommendation in this report.

Further, management does not follow industry best practices when calculating PostalOne!-BCSS availability percentages; formally define system status terminology (downtime, uptime, outages, and availability) enterprise-wide; or have a reliable method for tracking availability to assess the impact of downtime. Finally, management does not have detailed guidance for notifying all users of outages and the original contracting officer believed that the clauses missing from the PostalOne!-BCSS contracts were not applicable.

Business mailers are negatively impacted when PostalOne!-BCSS is unavailable. Although mail is inducted, users must follow the contingency plan, which is a manual process of recording mail submissions. Users must then enter the same data into the system when it becomes available. When PostalOne!-BCSS is unavailable business mailers do not know the status of their mail submissions or have access to mailer scorecard information.

PostalOne!-BCSS downtime affects the movement of mail, which could result in deferred or lost revenue. In addition, senior management may not have accurate system availability information to make appropriate decisions that benefit all PostalOne!-BCSS users. Further, untimely outage notifications could cause business mailers to incur additional labor and transportation costs and mailer scorecards may not be updated timely. Finally, if appropriate IT clauses are not in PostalOne!- BCSS contracts, data may be exposed or misused.

What the OIG Recommended:

We recommended management establish a plan to resolve systemic and recurring PostalOne!-BCSS availability issues, implement a formal process to track outages and downtime, define system status terminology, develop and implement a detailed PostalOne!-BCSS notification policy, and include blackout maintenance hours in availability calculations on the daily CIO scorecard. We also recommended management update contracts to include the required information technology clauses.

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