Watchdog agency: USPS spending millions on idle trailers

The results of an audit into how the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) manages its leased trailer fleet found that millions of dollars are being wasted due to lax oversight, according to the agency’s watchdog group.

Specifically, the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) determined that the Postal Service spent on average $472,744 per month from January 2019 to March 2020 on idle trailers, costing USPS a total of $7.1 million, due to insufficient monitoring of the fleet by management.

“Management needs to improve its monitoring of leased trailer utilization to ensure underutilized trailers are returned or relocated,” according to OIG’s audit, released Friday.

USPS uses both owned and leased trailers to move letters and packages among plants, major mailers and businesses. As of May, 76.7% (9,544) of the agency’s trailers were leased and 23.3% (2,905) were owned.

USPS leased trailer utilization, January 2019-March 2020. Source: USPS OIG

According to the OIG, Postal Service policy requires that leased trailers that are not consistently used for periods of 10 days or more within a month be returned or relocated – which means routine evaluation of the trailer fleet is needed to monitor daily trailer utilization. It noted that leased trailer costs have increased from $55.8 million in FY2017 to $69.8 million in FY2020, a 25% increase. The average cost of a leased trailer in FY2020 was $7,523.

An analysis of GPS data showed that during the January 2019-March 2020 audit period, 13.9% (1,076 of 7,746) of leased trailers, on average, were not used monthly, OIG asserted. “We found some trailers were actually moved from January 2019 through March 2020 but had defective GPS devices, which made them appear idle,” it noted.

Once those trailers were removed, OIG found on average 13% (1,005 of 7,746) of all leased trailers were not used for at least an entire calendar month between January 2019 and March 2020.

Contributing to trailer inefficiencies after the audit period was a referral from OIG’s hotline alerting that 27 trailers were being used as storage at an Amazon facility in Hebron, Kentucky, for an extended period in June and July. OIG pulled GPS data and other records to find out if the trailers had moved between July 9 and Aug. 7. “We found 125 of the 27 trailers had been idle between one and 16 days at the Amazon facility,” OIG stated. “The Postal Service is aware of these idle trailers and is currently working on correcting the issue.”

Age of Postal Service owned trailers. Source: USPS OIG

OIG also noted in the audit that while the typical life of a trailer is 13 years, USPS’s owned trailers are between 22 and 50 years old, with over 90% between 20 and 29 years old. The agency approved a business plan in May to purchase 825 trailers for roughly $24.5 million, with a request to replace the remaining 2,080 owned trailers planned for FY 2021, according to OIG.

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