Objective

Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of management controls over recoveries for private party damage to U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

The Postal Service maintains one of the nation’s largest fleets, with over 200,000 vehicles used for daily operations. In fiscal years (FY) 2018 and 2019, Postal Service vehicles were involved in over 58,000 motor vehicle accidents nationwide. The Postal Service can potentially recover the cost of damages to Postal Service vehicles as a result of accidents involving private parties. Postal Service policy requires recovery be initiated when the amount of damage to Postal Service property is estimated at $100 or more if the accident investigation establishes the private party is partially or fully at fault. In FYs 2018 and 2019, the Postal Service recovered more than $16 million from private parties for damages they caused to Postal Service vehicles.

The Tort Claim Coordinator (TCC) in each district office is the official responsible for initiating and negotiating recoveries on behalf of the Postal Service. Upon notification of a private party at fault accident, the TCC initiates a largely manual process of obtaining accident investigation documentation prepared by local supervisors, evaluating liability, calculating damage costs, and issuing a demand letter for payment.

Postal Service accident recovery information is contained in the following three Postal Service data systems:

  • Employee Health and Safety contains accident investigation reports and forms completed and inputted by local supervisors.
  • Tort Claims System contains tort claim and accident recovery data used by district TCCs.
  • Solution for Enterprise Asset Management contains accident repair costs entered by vehicle maintenance facilities staff.

The Postal Service’s National Tort Center (NTC) in St. Louis, MO provides centralized support to district TCCs for the tort program. Headquarters, Delivery Operations, establishes guidance and policies for accident investigations conducted by district TCCs and supervisors in delivery units.

We initiated 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.

Findings

Management controls over recoveries for private party damage to Postal Service vehicles were not always effective. Based on our analysis of a judgmental sample of 68 motor vehicle accidents occurring during FYs 2018 and 2019 in the four districts with the potential for recovery, we identified the following deficiencies:

  • Thirty-three of 68 (49 percent) motor vehicle accidents were not settled appropriately. Specifically, the noted cases were settled for less than what the Postal Service was entitled to or a demand for recovery was never made.
  • Forty-nine of 68 (72 percent) motor vehicle accidents had missing or incomplete required forms and documentation in the accident files.
  • Data for 43 of 68 (63 percent) motor vehicle accidents were incomplete or inaccurate in the Tort Claims System. Specifically, key fields including “Employee Action” [redacted] data) and “Employee Health and Safety Number” were left blank. In addition, we analyzed 29,531 accidents that occurred in FY 2019 and found 4,768 of the [redacted] data fields were left blank in the Tort Claims System.

These conditions occurred because:

  • TCCs lacked sufficient training.
  • District management did not provide adequate oversight.
  • The Tort Claims System lacked automated controls to detect whether all required accident case information was entered by TCCs and to alert Postal officials of needed action.

In addition, we noted that these issues were exacerbated by differences in the amount of time each district TCC spent on these duties and the TCC reporting structure.

Both the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and NTC had already recognized these issues and the COO requested the NTC initiate a 12-week pilot program in May 2019 in 14 districts to determine whether these functions should become full-time positions. Pilot program results indicated that changes could sharply increase collections.

We estimated the Postal Service could have recovered an additional $52,538 annually for the 33 motor vehicle accidents we reviewed that were not settled appropriately.

Recommendations

We recommended the Vice President, Delivery Operations, coordinate with the National Tort Center to:

  • Provide district TCCs training on accident recovery settlements and related processes.
  • Update Postal Service policy to require periodic management review of recoveries for private party damages to Postal Service vehicles.
  • Evaluate the TCC reporting structure and identify changes to enhance the effectiveness of the structure, which could include transferring supervisory oversight of the district TCC function, duties, and responsibilities to the NTC.

We recommended the Vice President, Delivery Operations:

  • Reinforce requirements to complete and submit required accident investigation forms and documentation to TCCs in established timeframes and the importance of recording accurate and updated accident information in the Tort Claims System.

We recommended the Vice President, Delivery Operations, coordinate with the National Tort Center to:

  • Evaluate implementation of automated controls in the Tort Claim System to require data in essential fields such as the “Employee Action” and “Employee Health and Safety Number” and require alerts when cases have exceeded reasonable time thresholds without a file or demand status change.

Read full report

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