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Watchdog: Accountability

USPS doesn't know how many historic buildings it owns

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Watchdog,Michal Conger,Art,Inspectors General,Accountability,History,USPS

Postal service managers don't know how many historic buildings they have, how much it costs to maintain them or what happened to historic New Deal artwork in the buildings they've sold, according to a new report by the U.S. Postal Service inspector general.

The agency sold 22 historic post office buildings between October 2010 and June 2013 to help address its massive budget woes. But because the Postal Service doesn't separately track costs for historic buildings, it doesn't know how much it was spending on those buildings.

Separately calculating the costs for historic building maintenance and repairs would take extra resources, making it "impractical," USPS told the IG.

Not only does the Postal Service not know how much its historic buildings cost, the agency doesn't even know how many of them it owns, because its database doesn't have a comprehensive list. When officials tried to update their database, the update corrupted files on historic buildings instead.

"Without accurate data in [the electronic Facilities Management System], the Postal Service cannot proactively identify, manage, and protect the historic properties in its inventory," the IG said.

The Postal Service's maintenance problems go beyond its failure to track the costs of historic building repairs. The agency also failed to fix more than 100 major problems at 75 historic buildings sold or listed for sale during the same time period, including safety and security issues. One quarter of the needed repairs were potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations that would have resulted in an estimated $57,000 in fines, according to the report.

Some post office buildings also house New Deal artwork, murals and sculptures commissioned between 1934 and 1944 specifically for USPS facilities. When buildings housing New Deal art are sold, USPS is required to report the status of the artwork to the National Museum of American Art.

The Postal Service didn't notify the museum about the artwork displayed in 10 of the buildings, blaming "limited resources and pressing priorities" for the failure.

"Without such notifications, the Postal Service is not transparent about the status and location of New Deal Art," the IG said.

Transparency was a problem throughout the sale process for the historic properties and relocation of the retail services to new facilities, according to the report. Policies on the New Deal artwork weren't made public, which the agency said was because it was revising its handbook.

"By including all New Deal Art policies in [its handbook], the Postal Service would increase transparency and public awareness of its responsibilities in this area," the IG said.

In at least one case, the agency gave the public only five days' notice before the public meeting on relocating the retail services being moved from the building for sale.

The Postal Service also rejected requests for consulting party status on several buildings from community groups with a vested interest, while approving other state and local groups.

The agency also gave the appearance of bias during appeals of relocation, the IG said. The vice president of facilities both approves relocation funds and makes the final decision on appeals, and during the sale process, he denied all three appeals.

The IG recommended the Postal Service track its historic properties and their costs; notify the National Museum of American Art about the status of the art in its sold buildings; and make all its policies public in its new handbook.

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