USPS OIG – Mail Processing Overtime
The objective of our audit was to assess the Postal Service’s management of mail processing overtime during fiscal year (FY) 2018.
The Postal Service had a goal to reduce mail processing staffing costs by about $130.5 million in FY 2018. While the Postal Service uses overtime to provide flexibility and meet its operational requirements, it must be managed efficiently. Overtime is paid at one and one-half times the employee’s hourly rate; and penalty overtime pay is paid, under specific conditions, at double the employee’s hourly rate.
From FYs 2012 to 2016, mail processing (Function 1, or F1) overtime increased by about $339 million (or 9.7 million workhours). Penalty overtime increased by $42.5 million (or 806,000 workhours). In FY 2017, the Postal Service experienced slight reductions in overtime and penalty overtime workhours. In FY 2018, the Postal Service planned to reduce overtime workhours by 1.3 million and reduce penalty overtime workhours by 93,000. However, mail processing overtime costs increased by $257 million (31 percent) from FY 2017.
In FY 2018 as overtime costs were increasing, processed mail volume declined by five billion pieces (1.65 percent). However, total mail processing complement decreased by about 5,000 career employees, and workhours decreased by 4.3 million (or 2.1 percent). Even with the decline in total workhours, overall mail processing staffing costs increased by $37.4 million (or 0.44 percent), due in part to the increase in overtime, as well as contractual general increases and cost of living adjustments.
What the OIG Found
The Postal Service did not effectively manage mail processing overtime in FY 2018. It planned for total overtime costs of about $732 million, but actually incurred $1.09 billion, a difference of $358 million, or 49 percent.
Specifically, the Postal Service planned for about 18.5 million overtime workhours and 767,000 penalty overtime workhours for FY 2018. The actual overtime workhours used were 26.7 million (44 percent over plan) and the actual penalty overtime workhours used were 1.7 million (126 percent over plan).
This occurred, in part, due to implementation of the F1 Scheduler at the beginning of FY 2018. The F1 Scheduler is a modeling tool used to optimize employee schedules and set a Postal Service-wide standard for establishing complement levels. Employee schedules and complement levels were calculated using FY 2017 week 41 (July) as the base week. However, week 41 was not representative of mail processing operations for all facilities and, as a result, it did not always schedule the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
Specifically, while the F1 Scheduler results contributed to the decrease in the overall mail processing complement by 5,000 career positions, there were also changes to many employees’ schedules and positions, which required the rebidding of over 53,000 mail processing positions, a 36 percent increase from FY 2017. The complexities of processing the large number of position bids along with the overall reduction in complement, increased the need for overtime. However, the average number of mail processing employees working during FY 2018 (82,000) still exceeded the average number of employees allowed by the F1 Scheduler (76,500).
The Postal Service is currently rolling out an updated version of the F1 Scheduler to facilities which is based, among other things, on a representative week for each processing facility. At the end of FY 2018, changes to the F1 Scheduler were tested to address concerns with employee schedule and complement issues. As changes to the F1 Scheduler were in the development and testing phases during FY 2018, and are not yet fully implemented, we did not include them in the scope of this audit and are not making recommendations on the new methodology in this report.
Opportunities also exist to address management oversight to prevent unauthorized overtime, reduce grievances, and increase employee availability.
Unauthorized overtime occurs when an employee’s clock time exceeds eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week without prior authorization from a manager. The employees must be paid for this time worked. In FY 2018, $136.6 million of overtime was not authorized. This was 3.4 million overtime workhours and 13 percent of total overtime, a significant increase over FY 2017 numbers (1.1 million overtime workhours and 7 percent of total overtime). We noted an effective practice implemented by management at the Milwaukee Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) to manage unauthorized overtime. For each tour, the Lead Manager, Distribution Operations (MDO), provided each Supervisor, Distribution Operations, a document which includes the employee’s name, the operation the employee would report to, and at what time, and how many hours the employee was authorized. MDOs also made frequent workroom floor observations to ensure compliance with the plan. Because of these actions, the Milwaukee P&DC had zero unauthorized overtime workhours in FY 2018.
In FY 2018 there were over 47,000 mail processing overtime grievances filed, costing the Postal Service about $8 million, compared to less than 43,000 in FY 2017, costing the Postal Service about $7.6 million. The grievances were filed for various reasons, including managers not offering overtime based on a volunteer-basis or seniority.
We also noted that employee availability was an issue, as there were over 13.6 million sick leave hours and 13 million leave without pay hours in FY 2018, with an average of 5,600 employees unavailable every day. Failure to maintain regular attendance negatively impacted employee availability, resulting in increased overtime. In FY 2018, the Postal Service established a district-level Attendance Control Office to provide necessary oversight to ensure unscheduled absences are being recorded appropriately, reviewed timely, and action is being taken.
Lastly, we noted that while area vice presidents, district managers, and plant managers are responsible for planning, budgeting, and monitoring performance against their operating expense budgets, no performance incentives were in place to effectively manage overtime.
What the OIG Recommended
We recommended management:
- Evaluate and test the updated F1 Scheduler results on a periodic basis to ensure proper implementation of position bid assignments and accurate complement levels and make adjustments as necessary.
- Issue supplemental guidance on management oversight to reduce unauthorized overtime, ensure compliance with overtime policy to reduce grievances, and increase employee availability.
- Establish appropriate performance incentives for managers to effectively manage overtime.