• on Aug 17th, 2015 in Products & Services | 278 comments

    Think stamps are only worth the paper they’re printed on? Philatelists will tell you to think again. The tiny One-Cent Magenta stamp, now on display at the National Postal Museum, recently sold for $9.5 million. 

    Of course, that sole-surviving stamp of the British Guiana penny issues is the rarest stamp in the world. Other stamps deemed collectible by the philatelic community are also worth a pretty penny. 

    Take the 1918 Inverted Jenny 24-cent airmail stamp. It is one of the world’s most collectible stamps because a sheet of 100 misprinted stamps showing an upside-down biplane was accidently sold to a customer. In today’s market, an Inverted Jenny stamp could fetch close to $1 million. 

    Yes, collectors are passionate about their stamps. Indeed, stamp collecting even has a month – October – designated to recognize an activity that can range from a hobby to an obsession. Two years ago to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month, the U.S. Postal Service reissued 2.2 million Inverted Jenny souvenir stamp sheets. The souvenir stamp sheets feature six $2 stamps and sells for $12. Collectors could buy the stamps at select postal retail counters and through USPS.com, eBay.com, and by ordering via a toll free phone number. The Postal Service’s goal was to sell all 2.2 million stamp sheets in the first 60 days for $26.4 million in revenue. As of March 31, total stamp sales were about $13 million.

    To generate interest in stamp collecting and engage new generations of stamp collectors, the Postmaster General requested that the Postal Service create 100 additional stamp sheets that showed the biplane upright. Seventy of these Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were distributed to be sold in the top 50 markets along with 1.2 million Inverted Jenny stamp sheets. The remaining 30 Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were to be randomly distributed in the first 60 days of release.

    While an innovative idea, this action had the unintended consequence of creating and improperly distributing a philatelic rarity, our recent management advisory noted. The Postal Service strongly and inappropriately influenced the secondary market by creating a rarity, the report said. In 2014, at least two Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets sold for more than $50,000 each. Our report recommended the Postal Service develop a formal process for philatelic promotions. 

    What reaction did you have to the issuance of the upright Jenny stamp? What types of activities do you think would enhance support of the philatelic program? 

  • on May 1st, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    Here’s the good news: Mailers accept and support the U.S. Postal Service’s Seamless Acceptance (SA) program. And here’s the bad news: Implementing the program hasn’t been very seamless.

    Ongoing data integrity problems, among other concerns, have delayed full implementation of the program. We found evidence of inaccuracy in the data and mailers raised similar concerns, prompting them to ignore the data, according to our recent audit report.

    Not the most auspicious start to a program designed to increase the efficiency of commercial mail entry, verification, and payment. Still, everyone involved wants the program to succeed. SA is expected to make mail acceptance faster and less complex, standardize the acceptance and verification process, and allow for a trend-based quality measurement system.

    Seamless Acceptance uses electronic documentation from a commercial mailer, intelligent mail barcodes, and various scanning devices to verify that the letter and flat mail a mailer is entering meets the Postal Service’s acceptance thresholds and that proper postage is collected. Twenty-nine major mailers have volunteered to participate in SA, tendering about 1.7 billion mailpieces each month. Another 288 mailers volunteered to participate in a preparatory phase of the program known as Seamless Parallel, which helps introduce mailers to SA.

    Our recent audit report noted that while the Postal Service has reported progress in implementing SA, delays continue due to ongoing data integrity issues, as well as customer service and communications hurdles. The Postal Service’s initial goal was to have the full SA program in place by last September. But a series of delays has pushed that date back to July 2015. Notably, problems remain with the scorecard data provided to mailers; postal staff members have limited access to relevant reports and data; and there is inconsistent communication between the Postal Service and participating mailers.

    If you are a commercial mailer currently participating in SA, what are you seeing in terms of data quality, customer service, and communication? If you are not a current participant, are you interested in joining the SA program? If not, what is holding you back?

  • on Apr 13th, 2015 in OIG | 5 comments

    If you’ve rummaged around our website lately, you may have noticed a new tab on our home page entitled Audit Asks. “What is Audit Asks?” you might ask. It’s where you can read about some of our upcoming audits in their early stages and respond to questions that can help us develop more complete and useful audit reports.

    Audit Asks is actually an update of our audit project pages, initially launched about 6 years ago to get feedback from our readers. With the new Audit Asks format, we have added some eye-catching graphics and changed our writing style to prompt more feedback.

    Engaging stakeholders is important to us, as this blog attests. Your comments provide valuable insights and can help guide the direction of our audits, as well as our findings. This is also your opportunity to send links to documents you think will be useful during the audit planning phase. During this phase the audit team learns about the subject, collects a broad range of data, contacts key experts and stakeholders, and develops the specific objectives of the audit. This is when we decide on the breadth and depth of the topic of the report.

    Right now, for example, you can let us know about your experience with reduced window hours at select post offices and whether you think this will generate the intended savings. Or you can tell us what you think about voting by mail or your views on the new mobile delivery devices used to track packages and communicate with local post offices.

    Are you following us on Twitter and Facebook? It’s a great way to be informed when the audit announcements are posted in Audit Asks.

    And while we’re asking, are there specific issues you believe merit a U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General audit? We conduct objective, independent audits of Postal Service programs and operations to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and misconduct, and to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. If you have an idea for an audit along any of these lines, we would love to hear from you. 

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