USPS makes changes as audit warns of "flawed" contract data

The US Postal Service has had to improve its contract management procedures and boost staff training, after auditors warned that “management is potentially basing important decisions on flawed data”. The Office of the Inspector General said this week that an audit of the way in which USPS staff record details about awarded contracts found that 99% contained errors.

Following up a request from US Senators Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill, the OIG checked $2.1bn worth of contracts over six months up to March 2011.

Looking at the USPS Contract Authoring and Management System (CAMS), which feeds into the Postal Service’s accounts payable system, it found that in 99% of actions reviewed, postal officials did not accurately or completely record contract data.

Data elements reviewed included aspects like contract type, award date, payment terms, start and end dates as well as product codes.

The Postal Service has downplayed the importance of the data elements, but the OIG said potentially the problems could have impacted on $4.5bn worth of USPS contracts.

System design limitations were to blame for 73% of the errors, while staff mistakes accounted for 27% of the errors, according to deputy assistant inspector general Mark W Duda.

“Unreliable and inaccurate data poses a significant challenge to the Postal Service. It could impact the agency’s ability to effectively support management’s decisions and to assist officials across multiple Supply Management Portfolios,” Duda said in the report.

The OIG had tried to develop a risk model to allow continuous reviews of Postal Service contracts, he said, but “the data was too unreliable to use”.

USPS spokeswoman Joanne Veto said yesterday that a “significant number” of data elements that were the focus of the OIG investigation were of “secondary importance” to the Postal Service in contract administration and management.

This point was raised by the USPS in the OIG report, with the OIG arguing that it had been told the data elements were “important”, and in its view was “critical information that needs to be recorded correctly in any contract awarded by a federal entity”.

Corrective action

Postal Service officials did concede that the CAMS design had been “insufficient” for capturing data correctly, and said that as a result of the OIG audit changes were planned.

The USPS spokeswoman told Post&Parcel that during the audit, USPS had redesigned several data elements to improve the capture of data, and new training systems have been developed.

She said: “The Postal Service conducted rapid refresher training that focused on key processes and data elements in our contract authoring system. A total of 10 webinar training systems were developed and presented to CAMS users during the period March 1, 2011 – April 7, 2011. These training sessions will be followed by monthly spot training sessions that will focus on commonly asked questions by CAMS users.”

The OIG commended the Postal Service for corrective actions made during the course of the audit.

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