GAO to USPS: Address database errors

As of July there were four main post offices listed at 1515 Crickets Ave. in Lubbock, Texas -- three facilities that ranged from 50 to almost 8,000 square feet that were being leased and one of more than 85,000 square feet that was owned by the government, according to the U.S. Postal Service’s Facilities Database (FDB).

It turns out that the Lubbock address is not the busiest location in the country but rather an example of a database so riddled with errors that major components within USPS will not even use it, according to a new report from government auditors.

USPS developed the FDB in 2003 to capture and maintain data on the agency’s 34,000 facilities nationwide, but five years later, the database is still not the central source for facility data as planned and its information is inaccurate, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Dec. 10.

Auditors found that the system has duplicate entries, multiple facility entries with the same function at the same address, and inconsistent data on square footage and building ownership. The errors were caused by inaccurate data in primary USPS systems — the Address Management and the Facility Management systems — that feed into the database, incorrect links to data from primary sources or mistakes made by local employees when entering data.

GAO auditors examined FDB data on Oct. 5, 2006, and again on July 7. They also visited 58 facilities — 24 of which were found to have incorrect information in the FDB.

Furthermore, the database does not contain fields for performance measures recommended by the Federal Real Property Council and does not track trends, GAO said.

USPS disagreed with GAO’s suggestion that it use the council’s recommendations for managing real property to track facility management performance and trends. Officials said the database was not designed to capture trends and is not under an executive order to adopt leading federal practices such as performance measures.

USPS said it plans to improve the FDB’s reliability rather than scrap the database and agreed to establish additional controls to improve its reliability and usefulness.

In a Nov. 19 response to a draft copy of the report, USPS officials disagreed with portions of GAO’s findings. They said the report “seems to target FDB’s demise” and mischaracterized the goal of the database. USPS said it was intended as a repository of facility information, not as a single, consolidated source. The report also “dismisses FDB without any exploration of how the information it contains is actually used throughout the Postal Service,” according to the officials.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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