I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: USPS Vehicle Procurement | Citizens Against Government Waste

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: USPS Vehicle Procurement

The WasteWatcher

In 1987, U2 released “The Joshua Tree,” which included the popular single, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  A gallon of gas cost 87 cents, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister for the third time, and “Good Morning, Vietnam” was showing in theatres that year.  It was also the last year that the United States Postal Service (USPS) purchased vehicles, which were supposed to “last a lifetime.”  However, much like neon-colored suits and shoulder pads in women’s blazers, those vehicles, known as Grumman Long Life Vehicles (LLVs), have outlived their usefulness and their style. 

USPS issued a request for proposal (RFP) on October 10, 2015 for prototypes of Next Generation Delivery Vehicles (NGDVs) to 15 pre-qualified manufacturers to compete for the contract.  The RFP requires six prototype vehicles with a specific set of requirements, such as room to stand in the rear of the vehicle.  USPS expects to spend $6.3 billion on the contract and have the new fleet of 180,000 vehicles operating by 2018.

While the USPS maintains it has the money needed to purchase the vehicles, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) questioned this claim during a January 21, 2016 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs hearing.  Postmaster General Megan Brennan responded that legislation was needed for “additional capital monies,” for “infrastructure.”   The USPS had a loss of $5.1 billion in FY 2015, following its losses of $5 billion and $5.5 billion in FY 2013 and 2014, respectively.  It is while unclear how USPS has the $6.3 billion, it is clear that a new fleet is needed.  The LLVs currently in use were procured when gas was less than a dollar per gallon, and individuals and businesses alike had a near complete reliance on the USPS for correspondence. 

Today, gasoline prices are the lowest in the past decade but still almost double the cost per gallon in 1987.  Yet USPS vehicles still travel at only 10 miles per gallon, less efficiently than most new pickup trucks.  Even worse, first-class mail delivery has been dropping due to the widespread use of the Internet and email for communication.  The reduction in revenue impacts the amount of money available to cover maintenance costs.  That said, package deliveries have increased, but the LLVs are poorly equipped to handle the increased number of packages.  USPS needs a new fleet in order to lower the cost of using and maintaining its vehicles, which totaled $1.1 billion in FY 2014.

According to a September 28, 2015 report by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), “USPS Fleet Procurement for the 21st Century,” the Postal Service is making the same procurement mistake it did in 1987.   The report made the case for a fleet of “off-the-shelf” vehicles.  By driving commercially available vehicles similar to those used by companies like UPS and FedEx, USPS could save $1.9 billion over the next 25 years as a result of lower maintenance costs and higher fuel efficiency than custom vehicles, assuming the vehicles are purchased for $30,000 each.  These savings would be bolstered by the use of a mixed fleet.  The needs of a postal carrier driving in Manhattan are likely much different than those of his or her counterpart driving in Alaska, but all carriers have been using the same vehicles since 1987.  A mixed fleet allows for smaller, more efficient vehicles to be used in urban areas while also having vehicles with greater terrain capabilities for more suburban or rural areas. 

Fortunately, USPS has taken some of this advice and altered its original RFP to have varying vehicles sizes (small and standard) and capabilities (two-wheel and four-wheel drive).  USPS could save even more money by leasing its fleet and upgrading vehicles on a regular basis in order to use the most efficient vehicles available at that time.

USPS assumes that how consumers get mail, communicate, and even travel on roads in 2016 will remain the same for a “lifetime” or “next generation,” as first envisioned back in 1987.  Since then, e-mail was invented and cars can run on electricity, gas, or a combination of both.  Considering these advancements, and many more, in less than 30 years, USPS should not be making the same costly mistake as it did in 1987 and locking into yet another soon-to-be archaic vehicle and delivery system.