Records Highlight Gap Between USPS’s Truck Contract Award and Its Environmental Evaluation Criteria

In February 2021, the U.S. Postal Service awarded a highly coveted, multibillion-dollar contract for a new fleet of mail trucks to Oshkosh Defense, a company that primarily makes gas-fueled military vehicles. The announcement was met with criticism by environmental advocates and members of Congress who said the Oshkosh plan, announced by Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, was at odds with President Joe Biden’s stated goal of transitioning to an all-electric government vehicle fleet.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency sent letters to USPS urging the agency to reconsider its decision to move forward with the gas-powered design and requesting a public hearing about its plans for the fleet’s modernization.

American Oversight obtained documents from USPS that include the evaluation criteria used to select a new fleet manufacturer as well as Oshkosh’s initial contract for nearly $482 million. The evaluation criteria explicitly mentioned fuel efficiency and a “path to alternate fuel vehicles” among the factors USPS would be considering, offering yet another contrast between what observers had hoped for and Oshkosh Defense’s design, which features a fuel engine that only offers an improvement of 0.4 miles per gallon over the agency’s current fleet, according to the Post.

In its criteria, USPS stated that it would be looking at the “completeness of description and projected value of offeror’s features that focus on improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.”

USPS also said it would look at whether proposals showed a “[c]apability to develop and adapt emerging technologies … including a demonstrated path to alternative vehicles” and “improved fuel efficiency.” After USPS’s announcement of the contract, the agency claimed that the mail trucks could be “retrofitted to keep pace with advances in electric vehicle technologies” and that the design would allow USPS to switch to an electric drive train. But DeJoy and USPS have since backed off those promises, with the Post reporting that the agency’s latest environmental analysis said USPS “has no plans to retrofit any vehicles.”

USPS’s current fleet accounts for roughly 30 percent of all government vehicles, and some of the agency’s mail trucks have been on the road for more than 30 years. The new fleet is USPS’s first large-scale procurement in decades and is expected to comprise up to 165,000 vehicles.

In its letter, the EPA wrote that USPS has refused to disclose how much money it has paid so far to Oshkosh Defense, and that the EPA had previously warned USPS that its environmental analysis of the contract was flawed.

The EPA’s letter also said that the agency had awarded Oshkosh Defense funding before conducting an environmental analysis on the design, contrary to federal regulations. The $482 million contract we obtained does not include a payment schedule, though it lists Oshkosh Defense’s “period of performance” as Feb. 23, 2021, through Aug. 4, 2023.

The contract award also drew scrutiny because of a $54 million trade in Oshkosh shares by an unknown party that was made the night before USPS announced it had chosen a manufacturer. In May, American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission seeking information about that purchase, but the SEC said in July that it was withholding the responsive records. American Oversight appealed the agency’s withholding of the documents in full; in its response, the SEC stated, “The investigation from which you seek records is still active and ongoing.”

The construction contract is set to last 10 years, and Oshkosh Defense has not yet begun building the vehicles. The first Oshkosh Defense USPS vehicles are currently expected to debut on American roads in 2023.

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