GAO Report: Census Bureau and Postal Service Should Pursue Opportunities to Further Enhance Collaboration
The Bureau and USPS are expanding collaborative efforts for the 2020 Census. The collaborative efforts include a new Bureau initiative to continuously update its master address list using USPS and local address information. This could allow the Bureau to limit the size of field operations needed to develop an accurate and complete address list for the 2020 Census.
The Bureau and USPS also plan to update their 1995 memorandum of understanding to, among other matters, help ensure that both agencies benefit from their collaborative efforts. The revised memorandum of understanding is expected to be approved later this year.
Additional opportunities exist for the Bureau to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of USPS mail carriers, including retirees…
Opportunities exist for the Bureau to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of USPS mail carriers, including retirees. Bureau and USPS officials agree that USPS city and rural mail carriers are familiar with the local living conditions in their communities and that this knowledge could help the Bureau conduct aspects of the 2020 Census more effectively. Mail carriers have experience and knowledge about the dwellings on their routes and could help find unconventional and hidden housing units (e.g., converted basements and attics) and identify single versus multi-unit homes. Residents of these households are often more difficult to find and count. Additionally, in some communities, mail carriers have information about hazardous locations along delivery routes (e.g., houses with an unchained dog or other dangers such as structurally unsafe porches), which could make census workers’ jobs safer and easier.In hiring for the 2010 Census, the Bureau did not do a targeted recruitment of USPS employees and retirees, a potential missed opportunity given that there were approximately 300,000 USPS mail carriers and approximately 100,000 additional retired mail carriers at that time. [USPS officials stated that they have no way of predicting with any certainty the make-up of USPS’s workforce in 2020]. Still, the Bureau hired approximately 2,400 USPS employees as temporary census employees at the Bureau’s $15 average pay rate. [Of the 2,400 USPS employees, the Bureau did not identify how many were mail carriers. The Bureau hired almost 10,000 retired federal employees, but did not track how many of them were former USPS employees]. The potential benefits of mail carriers’ local knowledge was evident, for example, in a case we observed in Louisiana, where a retired mail carrier used his knowledge of local living conditions to successfully manage census field operations in the area most devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, the mail carrier knew which addresses to remove and which to add to the address list based on his experience delivering mail in those neighborhoods. In moving forward for 2020, a targeted campaign—e.g., via job listings in mail carrier union newsletters and publications—could help the Bureau recruit more mail carriers to conduct census operations.
That said, using full-time mail carriers paid at much higher USPS wage rates—either for additional duties during the work day or as part of a “postal holiday” (where regular mail operations would be suspended in order to conduct census activities)—would not be cost-effective. Regarding cost, in 2010, the average USPS mail carrier was paid about $41 (city) or $34 (rural) per hour including benefits for regular time worked, compared to the average hourly pay of about $15 paid to census enumerators. Moreover, in conducting the 2010 Census, it took about 45-million staff hours to contact nonrespondents. Because of the difference in pay rates and the large number of staff hours involved, it would not be practical for mail carriers to perform census duties in lieu of census workers because of the higher costs and disruption it would cause to U.S. mail service.
Building upon the success of current and past partnership efforts, opportunities exist to enhance the Bureau and USPS’s collaborative efforts. First, the Bureau could better leverage USPS local knowledge and tap into a large labor pool by doing targeted recruitment of USPS mail carriers, including retirees, to work temporarily for the census.Second, during the 2010 Census, USPS spent time and money attempting to deliver millions of census mailings that were returned as undeliverable. A focus on solutions for delivering census forms to addresses where the Bureau does not have a complete address could decrease USPS’s operational and waste-disposal costs.
Given the importance of Bureau and USPS collaboration in successfully executing census operations, as part of future partnership activities, we recommend that the Postmaster General and the Secretary of Commerce direct their agencies to expand their collaborative efforts by:
> determining if there are ways that the Bureau could work with USPS to target recruitment opportunities to mail carriers, and
> assessing whether strategies can be developed to reduce the number of undeliverable as addressed mailings.
GAO-11-874 September 30, 2011