The U.S. Postal Service has about 265 mail processing facilities nationwide. Mail processing is an integrated group of activities required to sort and distribute mail for delivery. The Run Plan Generator (RPG) is a software application used by processing facilities to optimize machine usage and operational efficiency.
The RPG combines site-specific mail processing machines, sort programs, maintenance requirements, mail volume, and throughput data (the rate at which machines process mail) to project daily machine run plans to maximize processing efficiency.
We judgmentally selected and compared facilities with high and low RPG usage for our site observations. We conducted observations at the Pittsburgh and Minneapolis processing and distribution centers (P&DC), which had 86 and 92 percent RPG usage rates, respectively, for the first 3 quarters of fiscal year (FY) 2016. We also conducted RPG site observations at the Boston and Northern New Jersey P&DCs, which had lower usage rates of 59 and 32 percent, respectively. The national average was 83 percent during our observation period.
Our audit objective was to determine whether Postal Service mail processing facilities use the RPG to maximize processing efficiency.
What the OIG Found
We found that Postal Service mail processing facilities are not using the RPG to maximize processing efficiency because there is no specific criteria to measure its performance.
Of the facilities we visited, we found that those that did not use the RPG usually had lower machine throughput, productivity, and service performance and more delayed mail than facilities that used the RPG. Specifically, when comparing mail processing machines common in all four facilities, the Boston and Northern New Jersey P&DCs had machine throughput as much as 21 percent lower than the Pittsburgh and Minneapolis P&DCs.
Additionally, productivity at the Boston and Northern New Jersey P&DCs was about 19 percent lower and service performance scores were between 1.6 percent and 4 percent lower. Finally, delayed mail volume was about 26.8 percent higher at those two facilities.
During our site visits to the low RPG usage P&DCs we observed that new employees were assigned to generate run plans and there was no feedback mechanism to improve the accuracy of run plan models. As a result, projected mail volume was not accurate and machine throughput projections were not obtainable.
We also found run plans were not always available to operational managers and supervisors at the beginning of their shift or managers and supervisors considered the run plans unreliable and cumbersome to disseminate. Therefore, managers and supervisors did not discuss daily run plans with employees and staffed machinery based on the number of employees available rather than using the RPG.
We identified opportunities to save about $1.8 million over 3 quarters by improving machine throughput to the national averages at the Boston and Northern New Jersey P&DCs.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management:
- Ensure operational managers and supervisors use the RPG.
- Establish nationwide criteria for RPG usage.
- Ensure personnel are adequately trained to use the RPG to produce run plans.
- Improve communication of RPG performance to all levels of plant personnel, especially between operations support and mail processing personnel to improve the accuracy of run plans.
- Ensure RPG volume projections are accurate and throughput targets can be met.
- Ensure run plans are available to operational managers and supervisors.
- Adjust staffing and scheduling to correspond with RPG run plans.