U.S. Postal Service
What OGIS Found
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program is highly decentralized, although USPS has taken steps to centralize some functions in recent years. Every year USPS receives requests for records that could be located at approximately 30,000 field offices, mostly post offices and mail processing centers throughout the country, including in U.S. territories. Before 2014, requests made pursuant to FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552, went directly to those 30,000 field offices. The agency’s FOIA regulations now require all requests to be sent to FOIA Requester Service Centers in Washington, D.C., or St. Louis. The St. Louis center handles requests for field office records while the Washington office processes requests for headquarters records. (The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the USPS Office of the Inspector General manage their own FOIA programs and are outside of the scope of this review.)
The USPS received, on average, 1,633 FOIA requests each fiscal year between FY 2009 and FY 2017. During that same period, USPS responded to an average of 1,640 requests per fiscal year. Between FY 2009 and FY 2017, USPS accounted for an average of 0.07 percent of the FOIA backlog government-wide. Between FY 2014—when the USPS backlog hit a high of 144 requests—to FY 2017, USPS reduced its backlog by 82 percent.
Between FY 2009 to FY 2017, USPS responded to simple requests in an average of 17 days and complex requests in an average of 51 days. The average response time USPS reported for complex requests ranged from a low of 14 days in FY 2009 to a high of 95 days in FY 2017.
The average age of USPS’s 10 oldest requests was at a low of 248 days at the end of FY 2010, rose to a high of 1,013 days by FY 2016, and shrank to 808 days in FY 2017. Since FY 2013, the average age of USPS’s 10 oldest FOIA requests has exceeded the government-wide average; in FY 2017, the average age of the agency’s 10 oldest requests surpassed the government-wide average by 363 days.
OGIS’s primary findings are:
- the location and number of USPS field offices create management challenges for the FOIA program;
- the decentralized nature of the USPS FOIA program limits the value of investments in technology; and
- USPS communication with FOIA requesters could be more clear and consistent.
What OGIS Recommends
OGIS recommends that the USPS FOIA program meet its goal of creating a repository of FOIA process guidelines and template letters that employees in the field can use to respond to FOIA requests. We recommend that the guidelines and letters be written in plain language so that they are easily understood by both FOIA processors and requesters. Such a repository will address many of the management challenges noted in this report, and improve the quality of communication with requesters. We also recommend that USPS continue to look for ways to use technology to lower the administrative burden of the FOIA process.
Additionally, we encourage USPS to consider adopting certain best practices that could improve the program’s efficiency and customer service. These practices are:
- publicizing the types of information that the agency will not release;
- using a requester’s preferred method of communication for final responses; and
- providing callers with the option to contact the USPS general assistance hotline rather than connecting with FOIA staff.
Compliance Assessment Report
Title: "Decentralized FOIA Program Creates Management Challenges and Limits Value of Investments in Technology"
Date: August 22, 2018