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USPS OIG — What Postal Services Do People Value the Most? A Quantitative Survey of the Postal Universal Service Obligation

February 24, 2015 Comments off

What Postal Services Do People Value the Most? A Quantitative Survey of the Postal Universal Service Obligation
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

The OIG has conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey on the relative value of some key services provided as part of the universal service obligation (USO). This study is the first of its kind in the United States and was done in conjunction with the market research firm Gallup and Professor Michael Bradley of George Washington University’s Department of Economics. The study, What Postal Services Do People Value the Most?, focused on four attributes of the USO: mode of delivery, access to postal services, frequency of delivery, and price. This study is a follow-up to our white paper Guiding Principles for a New Universal Service Obligation in which we discuss the need for such a study.

The survey found that both consumers and businesses still value postal services, especially door and/or curb delivery instead of delivery to a cluster box or parcel locker. Respondents also value the ability to access postal services through post offices, rather than using other alternatives such as postal counters in non-postal retail stores and self-service kiosks. In addition, while consumers and businesses are indifferent when it comes to the Saturday delivery of letters, consumers still place value on the Saturday delivery of parcels. Furthermore, consumers and businesses also value lower prices and may be willing to accept lower levels of service to keep prices from rising sharply.

DHS OIG — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Alternatives to Detention (Revised)

February 18, 2015 Comments off

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Alternatives to Detention (Revised) (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General

Why We Did This
ICE’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program offers alternatives to detention. We reviewed whether: (1) the rate at which individuals in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program have absconded or committed criminal acts has been reduced since 2009; (2) ICE can improve the effectiveness of its alternatives to detention program, either by revising or expanding its Intensive Supervision Appearance Program contract, or through other cost-effective means; and (3) ICE’s Risk Classification Assessment is effective.

What We Found
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program is effective because, using its performance metrics, few program participants abscond. However, ICE has changed how it uses the program and no longer supervises some participants throughout their immigration proceedings. As a result, ICE cannot definitively determine whether the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program has reduced the rate at which aliens, who were once in the program but who are no longer participating, have absconded or been arrested for criminal acts. ICE should adjust its performance metrics to reflect changes in its criteria for program participation.

ICE instructed field offices to consider redetaining noncompliant Intensive Supervision Appearance Program participants, but most field offices do not have sufficient funding for detention bed space to accommodate all noncompliant participants. ICE could improve the effectiveness of the program by allocating some Intensive Supervision Appearance Program contract funds to redetain noncompliant participants.

ICE developed a Risk Classification Assessment to assist its release and custody classification decisions. However, the tool is time consuming, resource intensive, and not effective in determining which aliens to release or under what conditions.

USPS OIG — Window Retail Customer Service: Audit Report

February 12, 2015 Comments off

Window Retail Customer Service: Audit Report (PDF)
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

Between FYs 2012 and 2013, an increasing number of customers expressed dissatisfaction with the service they receive at retail facilities. While the Postal Service’s goal is 90 percent customer satisfaction, in FY 2013 more than 20 percent of customers who responded to surveys stated they had been treated “worse than other retailers” at Postal Service retail counters.

Dissatisfied customers exist, in part, because procedures for improving customer service are not functioning as intended. Although management communicates with sales associates periodically via service briefings known as “stand-up” talks and provides video instructions, there is a lack of continual, formal customer service training. Further, sales associates are selected based on seniority rules, rather than suitability for the position, as suggested by best practices. In addition, the Postal Service does not have a mandatory process to ensure managers regularly observe sales associates and provide feedback. Regular observation would help sales associates recognize where they need to improve their performance.

Will the Check Be in the Mail? An Examination of Paper and Electronic Transactional Mail

February 10, 2015 Comments off

Will the Check Be in the Mail? An Examination of Paper and Electronic Transactional Mail
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

By now, it’s fairly common knowledge that digital communications has cut into First-Class Mail volumes. But does this necessarily mean people always prefer to communicate digitally? To find out, we looked at the trends and customer preferences for one particular mail segment – transactional mail, which consists primarily of household bills and payments.

We collaborated with the consulting firm InfoTrends to analyze 3 months’ worth of customer billing data from a major U.S. utility. We also jointly interviewed executives who manage bill delivery and payment processing to help determine how the utility’s delivery-and-payment costs and customer preferences compare with those at other utilities and even in other industries.

Our new white paper, Will the Check Be in the Mail? An Examination of Paper and Electronic Transactional Mail, details how we found that despite a clear preference to pay bills online, 91 percent of customers prefer receiving their bills by mail. Even among the utility’s newest customers — those expected to be more digitally savvy — an average of 89 percent opted to have their bills mailed to them, though, like the others, most preferred paying online.

People like having a physical mailpiece as a reminder to pay and as a record-keeping tool. The executives interviewed said this is consistent with what they’ve been seeing and hearing. It’s also consistent with one thing consumers almost everywhere have made clear: they want choices in just about everything, including bill delivery and payment. In addition to being good news for the near-future of transactional mail, our findings suggest that a company offering a variety of bill delivery and payment options can help keep customers happy. And as the executives noted, while costs are always a concern, including billing and payment costs, customer satisfaction is often equally important, if not more.

Audit of VHA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans

February 5, 2015 Comments off

Audit of VHA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General

Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) National Call Center for Homeless Veterans (the Call Center) is VA’s primary vehicle for communicating the availability of VA homeless programs and services to veterans and community providers. OIG has assessed the effectiveness of the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans in helping veterans obtain needed homeless services.

We determined that Homeless and at-risk veterans (Homeless Veterans) who contacted the Call Center often experienced problems either accessing a counselor and/or receiving a referral after completing the Call Center’s intake process. Of the estimated 79,500 Homeless Veterans who contacted the Call Center in fiscal year (FY) 2013: Just under 21,200 (27 percent) could only leave messages on an answering machine—counselors were unavailable to take calls; almost 13,000 (16 percent) could not be referred to VA medical facilities—their messages were inaudible or lacked contact information; and approximately 3,300 (4 percent) were not referred to VA medical facilities, despite having provided all the necessary information.

Referred Homeless Veterans did not always receive the services needed because the Call Center did not follow up on referrals to medical facilities. Of the approximately 51,500 referrals made in FY 2013, the Call Center provided no feedback or improvements to ensure the quality of the homeless services. We noted that 85 percent of the 60 veterans’ records we reviewed lacked documentation to prove the veterans had received needed support services.

Finally, the Call Center closed just under 24,200 (47 percent) referrals even though the VA medical facilities had not provided the Homeless Veterans any support services. In total, we identified 40,500 missed opportunities where the Call Center either did not refer the Homeless Veterans’ calls to medical facilities or it closed referrals without ensuring Homeless Veterans had received needed services from VA medical facilities.

We recommended the Interim Under Secretary for Health stop the use of the answering machine, implement effective Call Center performance metrics to ensure Homeless Veterans receive needed services, and establish controls to ensure the proper use of Call Center special purpose funds. The Interim Under Secretary for Health concurred with our recommendations and provided responsive action plans. We will follow up on these actions.

The Value of the U.S. Postal Service Brand

February 2, 2015 Comments off

The Value of the U.S. Postal Service Brand
Source: U.S. Postal Service, Office of Inspector General

A corporate brand is a mix of tangible and intangible elements, from a company’s name and logo to expectations and attributes that consumers associate with a particular product or service. A certain car manufacturer, for example, may make people think of luxury and reliability. A particular retailer may immediately bring to mind everyday goods at low prices.

The U.S. Postal Service has a corporate brand, too. Its attributes include reliability, convenience, value, and tradition, among other things.

Brand valuation is a management tool increasingly used by successful firms to get the most financial benefit from their brands. But unlike many other businesses and organizations, the Postal Service has never conducted a formal brand valuation, which involves measuring the brand like any other asset and monitoring it over time, using a consistent methodology. The OIG worked with Premier Quantitative Consulting (PQC), experts in brand valuation, to estimate the value of the Postal Service’s brand using an accepted methodology with conservative assumptions.

Our white paper, The Value of the U.S. Postal Service Brand, details the extensive research and analysis as well as PQC’s methodology and model that produced an estimate of the Postal Service’s brand value at $3.6 billion. That is, the Postal Service can expect to realize $3.6 billion in future cash flows as a direct result of its brand. For example, if the U.S. Postal Service were largely unknown to the public, appearing to be just a generic delivery service, the organization would not realize the $3.6 billion in cash flows attributable to the brand over its lifetime, all else being equal.

The PQC white paper asserts that there is still untapped value in the Postal Service brand and suggests ways the Postal Service can enhance some of its brand attributes.

OIG Determination of Veterans Health Administration’s Occupational Staffing Shortages

February 2, 2015 Comments off

OIG Determination of Veterans Health Administration’s Occupational Staffing Shortages (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a determination of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) occupations with the largest staffing shortages as required by Section 301 of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. We interpreted “largest staffing shortage” to encompass broader deliberation than simply the number needed to replace or backfill vacant positions. We performed a rules-based analysis on VHA data to identify these occupations. We determined that the five occupations with the “largest staffing shortages” were Medical Officer, Nurse, Physician Assistant, Physical Therapist, and Psychologist. This determination is the first of several OIG determinations on VHA occupational staffing shortages. We plan to incorporate additional data in future OIG determinations to provide more detailed recommendations. We recommended that the Interim Under Secretary for Health continue to develop and implement staffing models for critical need occupations.

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