With electric postal trucks, logistics are all about charging stations

For better or worse, the Postal Service will replace its old local delivery trucks with a combination of gasoline and electric ones. It's a huge acquisition at ...

For better or worse, the Postal Service will replace its old local delivery trucks with a combination of gasoline and electric ones. It’s a huge acquisition at nearly $10 billion. The program includes the acquisition of electric chargers, which require testing and evaluation. The USPS Office of Inspector General took a look and the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked about it with Deputy Assistant IG Amanda Stafford.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin And there’s a lot of pieces to this acquisition. Tell us what you were focusing on specifically here.

Amanda Stafford As you mentioned, about 66,000 other vehicles that will be acquired will be battery electric. So, in preparation for their arrival, the postal service first focused on charging station acquisition and infrastructure readiness. Successful charging station procurement, testing and installation will ensure that the new vehicles can be charged and ready to use when they arrive. Specifically, we looked at the contracts related to the charging stations. We wanted to verify that the charging stations met the requirements laid out in the contractor’s statement of work. And our objective was really one to determine whether the Postal service was effectively testing and monitoring the performance of the charging stations. And two, to evaluate whether they were providing perfect oversight over that storage of them as well.

Tom Temin All right. And the contractor, is it the manufacturer of the vehicles or is it a manufacturer of charging stations, or is it some kind of an integrator that makes sure that one is compatible with the other? Because that’s a question.

Amanda Stafford Right? The charging station manufacturers are different than the vehicle manufacturers. The postal service has three charging station suppliers providing different types of chargers, and the vehicles are produced by a different combination of providers. So, they’re not the same. So overall, we really concluded that it was prudent for the Postal Service to elect to test and monitor these commercially available charging stations, and they were going to be deploying up to 41,000 of them throughout the delivery network, and then use first article testing to really verify that they met the requirements laid out in the contract statements to work. While traditionally, you don’t need to do a first Oracle test. It’s not required for something that’s already commercially available. But the Postal Service really wanted to go above and beyond to look at the interoperability and identify any performance issues.

Tom Temin You probably didn’t include this, but maybe you did. Are they running into a possible crazy complexity cost question? If they have three different types of chargers, and I’m presuming they have different plug styles, and having rented an electric car once, I’ll never do it again because one plug doesn’t go into that car and that car doesn’t fit that plug. And could they have chaos when they have ten trucks that need charging? But there’s only six of the compatible plugs available or something I like.

Amanda Stafford You know, that really wasn’t in the scope of this particular audit, but obviously looking at all of the different types and looking at sort of monitoring their performance in the future would be something that would be great oversight for us to continue to keep tabs on.

Tom Temin And when you mentioned first article testing, that’s getting a sample and setting it up and seeing what it does.

Amanda Stafford Exactly, they had a number. Each of the manufacturers provide their different units and that also service tested each. We actually went to one of the sites and were there for the testing. Right.

Tom Temin Okay. And what are some of the chief parameters that they’re making sure that these things will do? Because it’s probably different from a home installation where maybe things are more controlled.

Amanda Stafford Right. They were looking at sort of workmanship issues, software issues, hardware issues, really. We found that many of the issues that were found during the testing were all corrected, and they were fully approved by the end of June. But yes, they’re looking at different sort of has the charger physically work? Is it physically working as well as sort of the software issues themselves?

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Amanda Stafford. She’s deputy assistant inspector general of the U.S. Postal Service. And you found on that aspect of the acquisition, they were pretty good in doing that first article, testing to make sure the darn things would work, and I presume, holed up under rugged multiple person use, which is always a problem for any kind of machinery. But there are some things they need to work on. You found also.

Amanda Stafford Yep. So, they did a lot of things that went really well. There were some areas for improvement. We found that the Postal Service really needed to look at the management controls over the storage of the charging stations that were at the material distribution center. Specifically, facilities management did not employ necessary physical safety measures to protect and deter theft of postal service assets. This is location. There were thefts in the location where they’re being stored, and we found that despite previous thefts, that some of the crucial remediation measures that were identified previously had not yet been implemented. So, there was, again, a break in the happened again in May, where that location was and resulted in additional losses to the postal service, including the theft of some of the charging station heads as well as some IT equipment.

Tom Temin Interesting. So, these things are not like a parking meter, where it’s a steel unit that’s in concrete. I mean, nobody steals parking meters and they’re out there all by themselves. These are a little bit more portable than that type of equipment.

Amanda Stafford I would say that this was a central distribution center. So, this is where they were going to be essentially storing those items to then disperse and then permanently install. So, I think, you know, it was a prudent decision to have them placed in a location and have them available at ahead of time. But at the same time, there were some security, you know, safety measures.

Tom Temin I imagine they’re in high demand because that’s an expensive component relative to the vehicle. Right? I mean, again, I don’t know what they cost.

Amanda Stafford I wouldn’t say they’re extremely expensive and I don’t want to opine as to sort of the cause of the theft. I think that there have been previous issues, and it may be completely unrelated. But that being said, you know, we just wanted to make sure that that facility was secure.

Tom Temin But they don’t give you the charger with the car, so to speak. That’s a separate acquisition.

Amanda Stafford They’re set for acquisitions, correct.

Tom Temin All right. So, what were your recommendations then here.

Amanda Stafford So we just have one recommendation really because of the insufficient safeguards, we recommended that the Postal Service take urgent action to finalize and implement the physical security plan for the assets stored at that material’s distribution center.

Tom Temin And by the way, is there one charger per vehicle? Is that part of the acquisition or would there be like, you know, I don’t know, I’m making this up six chargers for a given postal installation. And if there’s 15 trucks there, they would just be rotated to the chargers. Or maybe all the trucks aren’t there all at once anyway.

Amanda Stafford Yes. You don’t necessarily need a 1 to 1 ratio. You don’t need one charger per vehicle. No.

Tom Temin And how big are these chargers that someone could carry one off? It’s bigger than a computer charger which you can fit in your pocket.

Amanda Stafford They have various models, so I can’t exactly say. But yes, you would not just carry one off into your pocket for sure. And like I said, they will be taking those chargers and installing them, you know, permanently, physically into the different locations where they’ll have the electric vehicles located.

Tom Temin So eventually they get screwed to the wall in some way, or mounted in a way that you can’t walk off with them.

Amanda Stafford And that was part of the reason why they had different types of manufacturers and different types of charging stations so that they could support, you know, the buildings already exist, so they have to make sure that the charging infrastructure fits within the confines of those buildings that they have.

Tom Temin And do we know yet where the Postal Service plans to deploy them? I mean, there are some very large installations that are almost 24 hour operations, you know, like a small city mail center, you know, whereas some rural places or tiny post offices are closed and alone for a lot of the time during the day and would be more, I would say, subject to break in or theft.

Amanda Stafford I think the Postal Service, definitely as part of their electrification strategy, really thought through what locations made sense from a distance standpoint. You know, all the different variables that was part of their environmental supplemental that they created. So that was very much thought through. But they’re still in the process of rolling it out. And I’m sure it’s a dynamic process that could change over time as they assess needs and where they need to have them. It could vary and change.

Tom Temin And will you be looking at the other parts of the acquisition, the vehicles themselves at some point?

Amanda Stafford That’s right. For future work for sure.

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