The sum of $287,000 may seem like a tiny drop in the bucket when it comes to Washington's astronomical spending totals.
But at a time when the United States Postal Service has been bleeding literally billions of dollars, spending even that amount on a fleet of vehicles it now cannot locate, and never actually could, is worth a bit of a pause.
Watch: Postal Service blues
A report in Government Executive this morning notes that while USPS spends about $39 million a year to rent 10,000 trailers—the cargo bodies of its trucks—it also leased 35 trailers in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 to a distribution center in New Jersey.
"There was one problem with these particular trailers, however: The Postal Service had no idea where they were, according to the agency's inspector general, or if it ever even received them from the leasing company," explained Government Executive. It continued:
The Postal Service identified the problem during a 2011 initiative to reduce its trailer fleet by 35 percent. While conducting a leased trailer inventory, the New Jersey plant realized it had a problem.
"Unfortunately," the IG wrote, "they could not account for the 35 leased trailers. They were initially determined to be missing and after an extensive search for these trailers, they were subsequently classified as lost."
Still, the post office paid leasing costs for the vehicles for two more years, to the tune of $250,000. "During that period, USPS attempted to locate the trailers but 'the search did not reveal any records of trailer movements.' At that point, the Postal Service opted to purchase the trailers, and paid their supplier more than $37,000 for the titles."
The IG said it was issuing its alert because of "the urgency associated with protecting leased trailers to avoid unnecessary lease and residual value expenses for lost trailers, especially in light of the Postal Service's financial constraints."
As it turns out, the IG has brought up the astounding lack of inventory control at the USPS over its leased fleet of vehicles no less than 19 times since 2001.
"Currently, the Postal Service does not have a policy or an inventory system for its leased trailers," the IG said.
The postal service has vowed to implement changes to its system by March 2015. Among the IG's recommendations are using a "satellite-tracking system and tracking devices to locate leased trailers."
—By Maureen Mackey of The Fiscal Times