- Associated Press - Thursday, June 6, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - More than a dozen postal facilities in New Mexico’s largest city fell short when it came to consistently meeting building maintenance, safety and security standards, according to independent auditors with the U.S. Postal Service.

The agency’s inspector general recently released a report on postal operations in Albuquerque along with recommendations to address the problems.

The audit was prompted by requests last year from members of the state’s congressional delegation after union officials complained about dilapidated and unsanitary conditions as well as delayed and unprocessed mail and staffing cutbacks.

“The union had no doubt, whatsoever, that the OIG Audit Report would concur with our findings,” said Dan Huerta, a spokesman for the labor organization.

The audit follows recent reports of rodents being sighted at two post offices. In one case, union officials say a worker was putting mail in customers’ postal boxes when a rodent jumped out of a drawer and scratched the clerk.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the postal service nearly $9,500 over the rodent encounters. Postal officials appealed, saying they have an ongoing pest-control program.

As for the audit, deficiencies were identified at all 13 facilities that were reviewed. Problems ranged from minor infractions to more serious structural issues, such as cracks in the walls and floors of the main post office in downtown Albuquerque.

Postal Service spokesman Rod Spurgeon said the agency acknowledged many of the findings and implemented steps to resolve them. That included installing a new roof at the Five Points Station in south Albuquerque.

Spurgeon also noted there was no finding that employee or customer safety was ever at risk.

“Despite the exceptional financial stresses imposed by the Postal Service’s current business model, we remain committed to providing safe and clean facilities,” he said.

According to the audit, the Postal Service last fall began addressing the allegations. This included adding 100 custodial work hours in August and September.

However, auditors say there were still problems during their inspections in October. They found signs of leaky roofs at six post offices, nine post offices were missing annual fire extinguisher inspection; and five had unsecured rear building doors.

Auditors did not find instances of delayed mail at any of the facilities that were part of the review.

There was a shift in staffing between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, with maintenance losing positions and customer service gaining. However, auditors say the changes were generally not the cause of the poor facility maintenance and upkeep.

They pointed to the lack of management oversight for deficiencies related to building maintenance, safety and security.

The inspector general recommended developing and implementing a plan to address the issues identified in the audit, filling vacancies and instructing managers to monitor and report all instances of delayed mail.

Without corrective action, the inspector general said issues may persist, increasing the Postal Service’s potential exposure to fines and employee and customer injuries.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico was among those who requested an investigation last year. He said he plans to follow up to ensure the recommendations are implemented.

“Filling staff vacancies and maintaining safe, secure facilities must be a top priority for USPS leadership going forward,” Udall said.

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