U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Oversight of Mail Suspected of Containing Illicit Drugs at Postal Facilities

Objective

Our objective was to evaluate the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s controls for handling mail suspected of containing illicit drugs at U.S. Postal Service facilities.

The Postal Inspection Service established the Proper Handling of Suspected Marijuana Parcels Mandatory Stand-Up Talk in FY 2019 as guidance for postal employees on how to handle mail suspected of containing illicit drugs (suspected mail). In addition, the Postal Inspection Service’s Administrative Nonmailability Protocol policy describes procedures for recording referred suspected mail by postal employees. This policy was established primarily to remove marijuana from the mailstream.

When an employee identifies suspected mail, they should secure it, inform management, and contact the Postal Inspection Service. The postal inspector should then record the suspected mail and postal facility information into a tracking database, and either:

  • Pick up the suspected mail if it is in close proximity;
  • Have the employee mail it to the postal inspector upon request; or
  • Have the employee return the mail to the mailstream, if there is insufficient reason to suspect mail contains illicit drugs.

Once the postal inspector receives the suspected mail, they will attempt to contact the sender or recipient and, if unsuccessful, scan it as “seized by law enforcement.” The scan is visible in the Postal Service’s tracking system to the sender and recipient as well as postal personnel. The postal inspector holds scanned suspected mail for [redacted] then disposes of the contents.

We planned our fieldwork before the President of the United States issued the national emergency declaration concerning the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) on March 13, 2020. The results of this audit do not reflect operational changes and/or service impacts that may have occurred as a result of the pandemic.

Findings

Opportunities exist for the Postal Inspection Service to enhance controls for handling mail suspected of containing illicit drugs at postal facilities.

Postal inspectors did not always properly record mail suspected of containing illicit drugs in the tracking database when notified by Postal Service employees. We reviewed the Postal Inspection Service’s tracking database for FY 2019 and determined that there were incorrect data entries across all 17 divisions. For example, 21 percent of the referrals did not have the postal employee names and phone numbers and 7.5 percent did not have a reason for the referral. In addition, 21 of 34 postal inspectors interviewed stated they do not create an entry in the tracking database until they receive the suspected mail.

This occurred because management provided verbal guidance to record suspected mail information when mail is received. However, this was inconsistent with the policy that requires postal inspectors to record suspected mail information when notified by postal employees. Without proper records, these packages could go undetected by the Postal Inspection Service and expose the public and postal employees to harmful substances.

The Postal Inspection Service did not always instruct postal facility employees to store suspected mail in a secure location. Seven of 65 postal employees we interviewed at five facilities indicated that suspected mail is not always stored securely. Although we did not identify any suspected mail during our visits to 12 postal facilities, at each location, postal employees showed us the designated area where they store suspected mail when they encounter it. At three of the 12 facilities, the designated areas were accessible to all employees and not secure. At the other nine facilities, the designated areas were secured. In addition, eight of 34 postal inspectors we interviewed stated they encountered unsecured suspected mail at postal facilities.

Conflicts in policy resulted in postal employees making their own determination on where to secure suspected mail. When suspected mail is not secured, there is an increased risk of loss or theft that can provide opportunities for employee misconduct, such as illegal distribution or use of harmful substances.

Further, postal inspectors did not always scan suspected mail when in their possession. This occurred because scanning devices are not readily accessible to postal inspectors and the Postal Inspection Service has not identified the number of scanners on hand, or the specific need by office, to meet scanning requirements. Postal inspectors do not scan mail that will be used in investigative actions to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations. Additionally, policy does not require postal inspectors to scan suspected mail when a mailpiece is diverted from or returned to the mailstream. Due to a lack of scans and tracking visibility, the Postal Service paid some minimal customer insurance claims which it is not financially obligated to pay. Without tracking visibility, it could encourage loss and theft of mail.

Recommendations

We recommended management:

  • Ensure postal inspectors comply with the Administrative Nonmailability Protocol policy regarding suspected mail recordkeeping.
  • Update the Administrative Nonmailability Protocol to require postal inspectors to instruct Postal Service employees to secure suspected mail in a secure location until a determination is made regarding the disposition of the suspected mail.
  • Determine where scanning devices are needed and distribute scanning devices to those locations.
  • Instruct postal inspectors to scan all suspected mail that is either seized, diverted, or removed from the mailstream.

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