- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Financial troubles at the U.S. Postal Service are making it difficult for the mail delivery agency to replace its aging fleet of vehicles, an internal investigation has found.

A 2011 plan proposed buying 25,000 new vehicles at a cost of $500 million, but USPS leaders have not been able to finalize the purchases because they don’t have the money, a report by the agency’s internal watchdog, the Inspector General, found.

Likewise, a long-term plan called on the agency to purchase the next generation of vehicles starting in 2017, but designing the new vehicles has lagged behind due to lack of funding, the IG said.

2017, incidentally, is the last year investigators estimated that the USPS would be able sustain full mail delivery nation wide unless new vehicles are purchased. That date could come a lot sooner if there are unforeseen difficulties in repairing existing vehicles, the IG said.

In January, the agency bought 3,500 as a stopgap measure.

Agency officials said they are implementing a financial plan that should provide enough cash to buy new vehicles, and that they continue “to request funding annually for the replacement of vehicles with the highest cost maintenance.”

Meanwhile, plans for the next generation of vehicles should be decided by 2015, officials said.

The older vehicles are costing money in other ways, too.

“Aging vehicles are typically repaired when they break down even though it would sometimes be more cost effective to replace them,” the IG said.

The cost to operate the vehicles — excluding fuel — has been gradually ticking upward, from $820 million in 2007 to just over $900 million in 2012, federal records show.

The USPS operates one of the largest fleets in the U.S., with an estimated 212,000 vehicles, most of which are used for mail delivery.