Unfilled managerial positions and broken equipment were among the issues that led to a 4% drop in in mail processing at a Baltimore postal service hub last year, according to a new audit.
The audit found that a number of vacant supervisor and manager positions at the facility, which were left unfilled due to a nationwide hiring freeze from August 2020 to May 2021, “resulted in inadequate management oversight of operations and employees.”
“This contributed to a decrease in productivity for letters, flats, parcels, and the manual mail operation, compared to the same period last year,” the audit reads.
In total, the Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center processed about 1.67 billion pieces of mail between Aug. 1, 2020, and July 31, 2021, about 70 million fewer pieces of mail than the same period the previous year. During the same time period, hours and overtime increased 14.6 and 43.5% respectively.
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The data comes from an audit conducted by the Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General, led by Tammy L. Whitcomb. The inspector general also recently audited nine Baltimore post offices after congressional requests from Maryland congressmen C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Kweisi Mfume earlier this year.
“The objective of this separate but related self-initiated audit was to evaluate the efficiency of plant operations at the Baltimore, MD, P&DC,” the audit reads.
“This audit was completed to identify mail processing issues at the Baltimore P&DC that could affect delivery units served by this P&DC.”
Baltimore residents have been raising issues with mail delivery for more than a year, noting that checks, letters, prescription medication, presents and holiday cards delivered by USPS have often come weeks late.
“This audit confirms what we’ve been hearing for months from constituents and saw on paper in the OIG’s previous audit released last month,” Ruppersberger, Mfume and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said in a joint statement.
In July, Whitcomb told a Senate panel that the Baltimore postal district had already been “challenged for years” when it came to delivering mail promptly, but that services “really tanked when COVID hit.”
The audit notes that overall employee availability averaged about 64.97% ; the facility had a goal of 94.82% employee availability for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.
The audit also found that a tray management system at the facility had been inoperable since March 2019, and manually moving the mail was adding two hours per day, contributing to late deliveries.
According to management, the system was scheduled to be repaired in February 2021, but was deemed unrepairable. Currently, the facility plans to replace it in January 2022.
Additionally, auditors noted that mail was often brought to the outbound docks after trucks were scheduled to depart, leading to a high number of late or additional trips.
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Employees at the facility were also not properly scanning item or truck departures during the audit, which management attributed to a lack of training at the facility.
The inspector general’s office issued five recommendations in relation to these findings, which included filling the vacant supervisor and manager positions; speaking with employees about attendance issues; prioritizing the replacement of the tray management system; developing a plan to timely transport mail to outbound docks; and to provide additional training about scanning items to employees.
In a response to the draft audit, management at the Baltimore facility said they agreed with all but one of the recommendations, and set target deadlines for following through on those four recommendations.
“We appreciate your understanding of the challenges that the Postal Service and our workforce faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic during the period of your audit,” Dave Webster, the Chesapeake Division Director of Processing Operations, wrote.
“That said … we acknowledge that attendance issues, manager and supervisor vacancies, financial limitations, and other issues impacted the efficiency of operations at the Baltimore P&DC during the audit period.”
Webster wrote that management disagreed with the recommendation to replace the tray management system, as the Baltimore facility was at the top of the list for a USPS modernization plan.
However, auditors noted that the letter “did not provide a timeline or any specific actions that would be completed,” and considered the recommendation unresolved.