March 1, 2024

Lax oversight of trucking contractors plagues Postal Service


WASHINGTON — Lax oversight by the U.S. Postal Service of the trucking companies, brokers, and drivers it contracts could be contributing to accidents and deaths on the nation’s highways, based on the results of a new safety report.

The audit, released on Friday by the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), was requested by Congress last year following a Wall Street Journal investigation into safety violations and fatal crashes involving long-distance carriers that haul mail for the agency.

The Postal Service does not track accidents and fatalities involving its trucking contractors, the OIG audit revealed, and therefore auditors were unable to provide Congress with a complete set of accident data.

Analyzing official but incomplete data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the OIG identified 373 accidents resulting in 89 fatalities directly related to 43 on-duty contractors servicing Postal Service trucking contracts.

“These 43 contractors were associated with Postal Service contracts totaling about $1.34 billion between October 2018 and December 2022,” according to the audit. “We determined that the Postal Service had not terminated any contracts with trucking companies involved in accidents or fatalities prior to March 2023.”

While the agency told OIG that it is taking actions to remedy the problem – including starting to remove contractors with an FMCSA “conditional” safety rating, the lack of established policies to track and monitor accident and fatality data from its truck contractors “limits the Postal Service’s visibility into contractor safety performance,” the OIG stated. “This deficiency could allow unsafe drivers to transport mail and put other motorists at risk.”

Brokers left on their own

The audit also found that 14 of the 15 contracting and administrative officers interviewed did not know when trucking companies hired for highway contract routes (HCRs) used a subcontractor. In addition, brokers for the agency’s freight auction contracts – used to purchase extra capacity when contractors can’t fulfill HCRs – were not required to obtain approval or inform the Postal Service of subcontractors they hire.

“The Postal Service relied on the broker to complete subcontractor authorization and vet the subcontractor, but those results are not required to be reported to the Postal Service,” the audit stated. “The onus is on the broker to ensure the subcontractor is in compliance with Postal Service policies.”

Another significant deficiency found by the OIG: the Postal Service did not require comprehensive vetting of drivers for 241,006 freight auction trips in FY22 and FY23, which led to some of those drivers not being vetted at all.

“Postal Service processes do not provide any information about driving history records and allow drivers without any background screening access to the mail,” the audit noted. “As the volume of routes selected via the freight auction process continues to rise, using a weak screening process could lead to unqualified drivers transporting mail, compromising security of mail and safety of motorists.”

Regulations coming?

The OIG issued seven recommendations based on its findings, including developing a reporting system for subcontractors and putting in place a formal process to verify driver history.

In a statement to the Truck Safety Coalition, which has been pressuring the Postal Service to make reforms on behalf of crash victims, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said the report “confirmed several of our worst fears about contract trucking practices at the United States Postal Service.”

Connolly, who has pushed for reforms in Congress, plans to introduce the “Mail Traffic Deaths Reporting Act,” legislation that would require that Postal Service truck contractors and subcontractors report to the agency all crashes in which they are involved that result in injury or death not later than three days after the crash.

“I have met with the victims of these trucking accidents. They want to be seen,” Connolly said. “The report calls out for legislative action, and we are going to answer that call.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.





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