Apr 4, 2024 - News

USPS audit found big issues in Richmond's mail facility

Illustration of an angry emoji peeking out from inside an envelope.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Chronic understaffing, misplaced letters and packages, and a poorly executed transition to a regional postal hub. Those were among the critical issues plaguing Richmond's main mail processing facility, according to a new audit from the postal service.

Why it matters: The 35-page report details what locals and elected officials have been saying for months: Something is wrong with mail delivery in Richmond.

The big picture: In July, Richmond's mail processing center in Sandston became the first in the nation to transition from a local to a regional postal hub as part of the U.S. postmaster general's 10-year plan to modernize the postal service.

  • Around the same time, Richmonders began reporting widespread issues with mail delivery, including late bills, health screening results and election ballots.

Zoom in: The USPS inspector general reviewed operations at the Henrico County facility during its first four months under the new system, from July 29 through December 1, 2023.

Inspectors also visited in person in October. Among the most shocking findings in their report released Monday:

  • A 2022 audit found understaffing, high rates of employee absenteeism, low productivity, and a lack of training for existing managers at the Richmond facility. Those issues persisted under the new model.
  • Inspectors observed "multiple instances" of Richmond postal employees "not engaged with work," including one staffer sleeping on a forklift.
  • A lack of attention to detail that resulted in lost mail, packages sitting on the floor, and manual sorting methods used for "machinable mail."
  • Over 2-month-old mail left (and wet) in a container in the truck yard
  • Priority Express mail mixed in with packages containing "hazardous materials."

Plus, inspectors noted that USPS did not adequately communicate the plan or flow of the transition to local managers.

By the numbers: $8 million — the amount of "questionable costs" for the fourth month period.

  • Nearly 83% — the amount of overtime auditors say was unauthorized during the four months (though the post office disputed that finding in its response in the report).
  • 2% — the increase in the amount of work hours filed for the four-month period compared with the same time the previous year.
  • 9% — the decrease in the amount of mail processed in the time versus the previous year.

The other side: The inspectors credited the facility with responding well to changes in the zip codes it processes, including moving 228 (around Harrisonburg) out and absorbing 279 (the Outer Banks).

  • The facility was also credited with absorbing packaging operations from Norfolk well, a new layout of its facility and integrating new machines into its operations.

What's next: The report issued 10 recommendations for the facility to improve operations, and USPS agreed to nine of them.

  • It pushed back on the 10th — better communication about processing changes to customers in affected zip codes because those changes could disrupt service.
  • The postal service said it disagrees with the premise that changes automatically equal poor mail delivery and said it would only communicate future ones when needed.

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