It seems a lost piece of mail isn’t too different from losing your hat at school. In both cases, you’ll want to check the lost and found bin. For the U.S. Postal Service, that would be the Mail Recovery Center (MRC) in Atlanta, its official lost and found department. Known at one time as the Dead Letter Office, the Mail Recovery Center works to reunite undeliverable packages and letters with either sender or recipient.
Processing centers and retail and delivery units send mail items without valid addressee and sender information to the MRC, where MRC staff act as detectives. They scan and open packages in hopes of finding address information that will facilitate the delivery or return of items valued at $25 or more. If items can’t be delivered or returned, the Postal Service donates, recycles, discards, or auctions them off.
Auctions of unclaimed items are popular with the reseller community, although it’s a risk-reward proposition. Most items are arranged by merchandise in large lots, such as sporting equipment and musical instruments, and not sold individually. Potential buyers willing to travel to the MRC are given the opportunity to glance at the oversized box that contains the lot of items. However, they cannot touch, move or otherwise inspect the items before bidding. Three years ago, the Postal Service moved the auctions online in an effort to reach a wider bidding audience. It uses a contractor to run the auctions.
In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the MRC received 88 million items and processed 12 million of those valued at $25 or more. It returned 2.5 million items to customers — a resolution rate of 21 percent of researched items, or 3 percent of total incoming items. For mailpieces valued at $25 or more without a valid address, the MRC retains them for 30, 60, 90, or 180 days, depending on the mail class or special services used. Customers can file an inquiry about a lost mailpiece and then employees search to try to match an inquiry with an undelivered item.
Our recent audit report looked at the MRC’s effectiveness at handling customer inquiries and managing items it received. We found that Postal Service sales and service associates need to better instruct customers on filing an inquiry. We also found the MRC did not track how many inquiries resulted in items returned to customers because it did not have procedures to capture and analyze inquiry data.
Also, the Postal Service did not sufficiently oversee the contractor responsible for auctioning unclaimed items at the MRC or fully log and reconcile items sent for auction, the report said.
We are looking for feedback on your specific experience with the Mail Recovery Center or auction process. Do you have any experience with the Mail Recovery Center? Do you see ways to strengthen the process?
Have you ever participated in the auction process? If yes, what works well? What could be improved?