GAO faults USPS, Census Bureau in 'high-risk' report

GAO faults USPS, Census Bureau in 'high-risk' report
© Greg Nash

The U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Census Bureau are among high-risk areas of government in need of reform, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO's "High Risk List," which it releases every two years, found 36 areas across the government that needed to address vulnerabilities to waste, fraud, abuse or more broadly reform.

It said the Postal Service, which has had one of the more difficult years in its history amid the coronavirus pandemic and long-term financial strains, is in need of reform to be solvent. 

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"USPS expenses exceeded revenues by $18 billion in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 as its labor compensation costs continued to increase while the volume of its most profitable mail products continued to decline," the report said.

The GAO report said that of the criteria it uses to assess programs, leadership commitment, agency capacity, an action plan, monitoring efforts and demonstrated progress, the Postal Service went from meeting some in 2019 to meeting none under its controversial leader, Postmaster General Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyFBI investigating political fundraising of former employees of Postmaster General DeJoy Postal Service raises stamps to 58 cents as part of restructuring plan Lawmakers request investigation into Postal Service's covert operations program MORE.

A spokesperson for the Postal Service said DeJoy's plans were a response to, rather than the cause of, the problems.

"The findings of the GAO high-risk report reinforces why, for over the past eight months, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the rest of our executive leadership team have been working on developing a comprehensive 10-year strategy that will be finalized soon to address the serious but solvable challenges of the Postal Service," the spokesperson said.

Last week, DeJoy apologized for slowdowns and delays in the postal system, but said he would not resign from the position.

In faulting the Census Bureau, the GAO specifically called out the leadership's commitment to change, as well as its response to COVID-19. 

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It also said the Department of Commerce had endangered the census by asking the Bureau to shorten its data collection despite the coronavirus, an effort undertaken by the Trump administration.

"This regression is because the Department of Commerce requested that the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) shorten data collection time frames and response processing of census data in an effort to meet the apportionment deadline of December 31, 2020, even though COVID-19 had forced the Bureau to pause field data collection operations for approximately 3 months," the report said.

"Compressing the time frame to collect data and process responses has increased the risk of compromised data quality."

The criticism pointed to the politicizing of the census under former President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE, an issue that has also been a problem for Postal Service. 

Overall, the report found seven areas on the high risk list showing improvement, 20 remaining unchanged and five becoming worse since the last report, including the Postal Service and the Census Bureau. Cybersecurity, strategic human capital management and the Environmental Protection Agency's process for assessing and controlling toxic chemicals also got worse.

"The current list makes clear how much work remains to overcome a number of serious challenges facing the federal government," said Gene Dodaro, the head of the GAO.

"Addressing them has the potential to save significant amounts of money and improve services that are vital to the wellbeing of the American people,” he added.

The GAO added two new areas of inquiry to the list, one covering emergency loans for small businesses and the other dealing with the federal response to drug misuse.

Some of the other issues that needed immediate attention was the government's ability to hire key positions, blamed on the top position at the Office of Personnel Management going largely unfilled, as well as environmental regulation, preparations for the fiscal repercussions of climate change and IT acquisition and management.

In brighter news, one of the seven improved areas, dealing with the Pentagon's Support Infrastructure Management, was removed from the high risk list altogether.

Updated at 2:34 p.m.