This report discusses the Flats Sequencing System (FSS) program status and its projected financial impact and addresses both operational and financial risks (Project Number 09YG052DA000). The objective of this audit was to assess procedures for reporting of FSS performance and program savings shortfalls. See Appendix A for additional information about this audit.
In December 2006, the U.S. Postal Service approved a (redacted) project to develop,purchase, and deploy 100 FSS machines, which are designed to sort flat mail in the precise order in which it is delivered. The first two contract requirements tests of FSS machines (designed to ensure functionality, quality, and compliance with specifications) have shown shortfalls in expected performance. Typically, when there is a First Article Test (FAT) failure, Postal Service acquisition guidelines call for retests before beginning deployment. However, in this case, the Postal Service has decided to deploy FSS machines despite major performance shortfalls in order to capture savings earlier; however, deploying FSS machines that do not meet contract requirements could reduce
expected savings. Although the Postal Service has adjusted its savings expectations and project assumptions have changed, it has remained optimistic when communicating expected financial outlooks.
The Postal Service’s revised performance projections in Quarter 1 (Q1) of fiscal year (FY) 2010’s Investment Highlights report do not use current actual machine performance and its projection of a gain of at least $872 million from FSS appear optimistic. In addition,there have been significant changes in assumptions for FSS machines and measurement criteria since the 2006 approval of the original investment. For example, flats volumes have decreased significantly, expected throughput rates have not been met, planned FSS sites have increased, the program schedule has changed by a year, and additional savings for transitional employees (TE) have been introduced to the investment return.These changes make it challenging for the Postal Service to measure project success as initially defined.
Particularly, we believe adding TE savings to the evaluation of FSS program success is questionable for several reasons. First, these savings were never considered as part of the original investment decision. Second, 44 percent of TEs are not in districts that will eventually host FSS machines. Lastly, management claimed these savings prior to FSS deployment and has the option of reducing TE complements for volume declines irrespective of the FSS program’s success. Thus, much of the savings from these employees will likely not be associated with FSS deployment.The Postal Service’s Q1, FY 2010 Investment Highlights report shows a projected gain for the FSS program of at least $872 million and a return of at least 27 percent. Using current actual performance data for the highest performing machine and operational target metrics, we calculated four financial scenarios for measuring program status and progress
against program goals. These scenarios were at least $431 million lower than the scenarios the Postal Service presented. Such a large difference exists because the Postal Service used more optimistic performance assumptions rather than actual machine performance or operational target results.
Our analysis shows that using current FSS performance data to calculate projected savings results in a net present value (NPV) of $215 million (a rate of return of 14.49 percent). If we remove the questionable TE savings, the NPV decreases to a negative $311 million (a rate of return of 5.18 percent). Assuming the FSS machines reach the operational target metrics, we calculate gains from FSS to be $441 million (rate of return of 19.26 percent). If we remove the questionable TE savings, there is a projected NPV of a negative $85 million (a rate of return of 8.54 percent).
The Postal Service’s Handbook F-661 requires accurate analysis and reporting of program impact. One purpose of the Investment Highlights report is to show the progress of large-scale programs within the Postal Service. Reporting program performance based on actual and operational target data is critical so that key decision-makers (such as the Board of Governors) have sufficient information to monitor program progress on projects of significant duration. See Appendix B for our detailed analysis of this topic.
We recommend the vice president, Engineering:
1. Use actual machine performance and operational target data to more accurately report the progress of the Flats Sequencing System program’s financial outcomes in compliance reports such as the Investment Highlights report.
1 General Investment Policies and Procedures (November 2005, updated with Postal Bulletin revisions through October 11, 2007) provides a single source overview of investment projects.
While management agreed with the recommendation to use actual machine performance data for compliance reports, they took exception to certain findings and our recommendation to use operational target data. Specifically, the Postal Service will include an additional FSS financial scenario when reporting outcomes in Investment Highlights reports. Management will take this action in time for the Q3, FY 2010 Investment Highlights report. The reported scenario will represent the Postal Service’s most current assessment of actual machine performance. In reference to using operational target data,the Postal Service does not believe they are representative of long-term expectations and elected not to present them in future Investment Highlights reports.
Management also said the financial outcomes presented in the report do not recognize:
– Throughput improvements demonstrated during tests in November 2009 and April 2010.
– Performance improvements over the 10-year program life and performance levels already achieved by the first article machine.
– Over 17 hours of daily runtime for unconstrained machines.
– The relevance of TEs, their strategic use, and the resulting savings attributable to the FSS program.
– Scheduling adjustments that address lower mail volumes.
– Additional savings related to delivery unit space reductions and vehicle capital investment and maintenance avoidance.
Thus their lower bound outcomes represent the likely worst case scenario. We have included management’s comments, in their entirety, in Appendix D.