Postal Service employees may be eligible to receive relocation benefits as a result of a transfer to a new duty station, as a new hire, or for a final move after retirement.
The Postal Service outsources all relocation services to a relocation management firm (RMF). The RMF provides guidance to relocating employees on Postal Service policies and processes, ensures prompt payment of authorized expenses, and assists with arrangements for moving and storing household goods. On September 19, 2018, the Postal Service entered into a contract with the current RMF to manage its relocation program beginning February 1, 2019. Based on data from February 1, 2019, through May 12, 2020, this program authorized over 800 employee relocations and paid over $21 million in relocation benefits.
Our objectives were to determine whether relocation benefits were reasonable and properly paid, the current RMF complied with contractual requirements, and the Postal Service effectively managed the relocation benefits program.
Our audit was in the fieldwork stage when the President of the U.S. 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 any process and/or operational changes that may have occurred as a result of the pandemic.
The RMF did not always comply with contractual requirements and properly pay all relocation benefits. In addition, the Postal Service did not effectively manage the program. We identified instances of noncompliance with contractual requirements for full, unlimited database access and payments of certain relocation benefits. Specifically:
- The RMF did not provide the Postal Service full, unlimited access to all documentation in its online database. A majority of employee relocation benefits documentation and information supporting those benefits paid were viewable only by the RMF. The contract states the RMF must provide full, unlimited access to the online database. Only upon our request did the RMF provide hard copy documentation or make the documentation viewable. The Postal Service needs access to the RMF’s online database to effectively monitor the program and ensure proper payment of benefits.
- The RMF did not properly pay relocation benefits for 24 of 151 (16 percent) randomly sampled employee relocations from February 1, 2019, through March 9, 2020. We found 27 instances in which the RMF did not pay relocation benefits expenses according to policy or verbal guidance received from the Postal Service. Specifically, the RMF:
- Reimbursed employees for en route travel lodging expenses up to the government lodging rate but did not reimburse applicable taxes in 10 of the 27 instances.
- Miscalculated amounts due for the meals and incidentals component of per diem expenses in 13 of the 27 instances based on incorrect values, number of travelers, and government per diem amounts.
- Reimbursed a travel lodging expense based on the government allowance rate for the lodging location instead of the new duty station.
- Reimbursed a travel expense not related to the employee’s relocation.
- Miscalculated a mileage expense allowance.
- Omitted a reimbursable, invoiced cost for a household goods moving expense.
These issues occurred because the Postal Service did not have adequate policies and procedures to monitor the program. In addition, the Postal Service discussed guidelines regarding the application of relocation policy with the RMF but did not document them. Access to all RMF data and processes for monitoring RMF performance would ensure proper payment of relocation benefits and RMF compliance with contractual requirements. The Postal Service agreed with the miscalculations and, as a result of our audit, agreed to correct the improper payments.
We also found the Postal Service has opportunities to reduce costs for its relocation benefits program by aligning its relocation policy with the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR). Postal Service payment policies are significantly different than FTR payment policies for miscellaneous expense allowance and temporary quarters benefits. Specifically:
- Postal Service relocation policy allows a miscellaneous expense allowance payment of $2,500 for non-bargaining employees regardless of marital or family status and two weeks of base pay for managers in postal career executive service. The FTR’s maximum miscellaneous expense allowance payment is $1,300. If management followed FTR policies, they would have saved over $1 million from February 1, 2019, through May 12, 2020.
- The Postal Service does not require receipts for payment of the temporary quarters lump sum benefit or demand repayment if the employee does not use the entire amount when relocating. The FTR requires receipts or a travel voucher and states that reimbursement may be based on actual expenses, up to government per diem rates. The FTR ensures payments closely match actual expenses.
We recommended management:
- Establish full, unlimited access to the relocation management firm’s database.
- Implement processes and procedures to monitor contractual and policy requirements.
- Develop written guidelines to clarify verbal relocation policy discussions with the relocation management firm.
- Evaluate and align relocation benefits policy for miscellaneous expense allowance and temporary quarters benefits with those benefits offered to other federal employees.