The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research.

A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month.

The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters.

The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world.

Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets.

“A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says.

How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.

Comments (108)

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  • anon

    Why do I keep getting my sons Christmas card back as "insufficient address" while he got other mail I sent the same day!!!to the same address !!they have Grinch working at Tx 77598?in Webster?Q

    Dec 19, 2014
  • anon

    Suzanne, I sent a message to the email you provided with the number to the Houston USPS Office of Consumer Affairs. This situation would best be handled by their office. Thank you for your comment. OIG Blog Moderator

    Dec 22, 2014
  • anon

    I HAVE BEEN HAVING TROUBLE WITH LETTES AND CARDS BEING DELIVERED IN A TIMELY FASHION. ONE LETTER MAILED LESS THEN 20 MILES AWAY TOOK 38 DAYS. BIRTHDAY CARDS GOING TO NEIGHBOR STATE ARE TAKING 2 WEEKS. I SAI THE SAME THINGTHERE IS A PROBLEM SOME WHERE. I NOW HAVE A MISSING PACHAGE SINCE JAN 18TH

    Feb 26, 2013
  • anon

    On JANUARY 3, 2013 I took a pkg. to my local post office unopened RETURN TO SENDER. Clerk # 08 pocessed it accordingly (I assumed). As of this date the pkg. has been back and forth from Atl. to Memphis a dozen times, it eventually made it to 2 different California facilities has not been scanned again since FEBRUARY 6, 2012. It still has not made it to it's final destination of Torrence, CA. TODAY IS FEBRUARY 22, 2013. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!!!!! FYI 420300179102927002514312472120

    Feb 22, 2013
  • anon

    Tricia, Please provide us with more information by filing a complaint with our Hotline. You can contact us at 1-888-877-7644 or online at http://www.uspsoig.gov/hotline-new.cfm Thank you, US Postal Service Office of Inspector General

    Dec 14, 2012
  • anon

    If this was my company, I would drug test your Chesapeake and Eastern Shore contracted drivers.

    Dec 14, 2012
  • anon

    Mr. Brooks, Your comment has been passed on to our Hotline for further investigation. If you have additional information, you can contact us at 1-888-877-7644 or online at http://www.uspsoig.gov/hotline-new.cfm Thank you, US Postal Service Office of Inspector General

    Dec 11, 2012
  • anon

    Hello, I am currently trying to get an answer or a resolution to an item I mailed out but I don't know where to look (I can't send the post office an email for some reason) and when I call them they can only tell me that my item is undeliverable as addressed (I believe I may have left off the recipients street address). This status was made on 11-29. Now, I simply want to know the status of it now (where is it, etc.) as its a week later and the status hasn't changed to Return to Sender or anything else. The tracking number is 03122120000211737350/usps. I know I wrote a return address which puzzles me and makes me wander if its lost or what? I would GREAATLY APPRECIATE any help you can provide me with. Thanks so much Wade

    Dec 05, 2012

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