USPS Keeps Spending Data Secret

The US Postal Service (USPS) is becoming notorious among the federal agencies that defend the secretive handling of basic spending data, even as federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests pile up and are not complied with according to law. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation (TPAF) has been blocked in a recent attempt to obtain details about the USPS’s electric vehicle procurement. After lengthy delays, TPAF eventually received heavily redacted documents that blacked out essentially all financial information.

This issue is not isolated. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from last month, the backlog of unprocessed FOIA requests across all federal agencies has more than doubled in the past decade, reaching over 200,000 by fiscal year 2022. The Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Health and Human Services account for most of these backlogged requests, making up 80% of all new inquiries.

The USPS’s records from fiscal year 2023 reveal a troubling trend: out of 4,104 FOIA requests received, nearly 70% were outright denied. Only 447 received complete responses, with an additional 749 only partially answered.

Critics argue that the USPS’s reluctance to share information undercuts the very purpose of FOIA, which is to foster transparency within the federal government. Though intended to provide insight into governmental operations, the process often descends into bureaucratic black holes. FOIA requires that properly submitted requests must be processed within 20 working days. However, it is now routine for requests to go through multiple delays without meaningful feedback to requesting parties.

As the TPAF’s futile attempt to access electric vehicle procurement data shows, the USPS employs a broad interpretation of exemptions under 39 U.S.C. ยง 410(c)(2). This statute allows the agency to refuse disclosure of commercially sensitive information, specifically material of a “commercial nature, including trade secrets, whether or not obtained from a person outside the Postal Service, which under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed.”

The USPS’s handling of FOIA requests reflects the culture of secrecy in all federal administrative offices that prioritizes operational convenience over public accountability. Efforts to enhance transparency must be more than just bureaucratic lip service. Concrete measures, including setting clear timelines for reducing backlogs are essential.