About 621 million pieces of international mail entered the U.S. from foreign countries in fiscal year (FY) 2016. More than 95 percent of this mail was accepted by the U.S. Postal Service at one of its five International Service Centers (ISC) in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. The remaining segment was mostly accepted at either the Honolulu Processing and Distribution Center or the New Jersey International Network Distribution Center.

When inbound international mail arrives at airports via inbound commercial carrier flights, ground handlers (which can either be employees of the respective airlines or contracted employees of the airlines) unload the receptacles of mail from the airplane and tender them to the ISC. These initial operations mainly fall under the responsibility of the foreign postal operators and their agreements with the air carriers or ground handlers.

Postal Service employees monitor the airfield to assess the status of inbound international mail receptacles and manually document their assessments by completing reports known as ramp reports. Employees use these reports to document key mailing information including the airline, the country of origin, the foreign dispatch date (the date when the mail is scanned and assigned to a flight in the foreign country), and the number of receptacles waiting to be brought to the ISC.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) Letter Post Manual states that mail should be tendered at the ISC within one to two hours maximum after the airplane’s arrival. Our objective was to evaluate the timeliness of mail arrival at the Postal Service’s ISCs.

What the OIG Found

We found significant delays in the Postal Service’s receipt of inbound international mail at the ISCs. Our analysis of all 5.4 million receptacles received at the ISCs between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017, with flight log data, showed the following:

  • About 4.3 million receptacles, or about 80 percent of the mail tendered to the Postal Service, exceeded the 2-hour UPU guidance.
  • Of these 4.3 million receptacles, about 63 percent arrived between 2 and 12 hours; about 20 percent took between 12 and 24 hours, and about 17 percent took longer than 24 hours.
  • Delays were more prevalent during the end-of-year peak mailing season.

These delays occurred because airport ground handlers did not transport the mail to the ISCs in a timely manner after the flights arrived. While the Postal Service does not have the authority to manage the ground handlers, it has opportunities to improve its monitoring of the delays. Specifically, the Postal Service’s ramp reports are not being completed consistently across all ISCs. In addition, available data — such as the actual flight arrival date and time the mail arrives at the airport to better indicate how long a receptacle has been in the U.S. — is not incorporated into its inbound mail monitoring and reporting processes.

The Postal Service is coordinating with the foreign postal operators, ground handlers, and others on notifying the respective parties of the delays and developing corrective actions. These actions should help improve the identification and movement of delayed mail by increasing the visibility and awareness of the issue. As such, we are not making a recommendation to increase coordination.

Continued inbound international mail delays present service and public safety and security concerns, both of which could reflect poorly on the Postal Service’s brand and image. For example, we found instances where the delayed mail at one ISC resulted in rain-damaged and unsecured mail. In addition, Postal Service acceptance operations are structured to more efficiently handle timely, steady streams of incoming mail; delayed and clustered mailings tend to produce more inefficient inbound mail operations.

What the OIG Recommended

We recommended management develop a consistent ramp reporting process across all ISCs and a mechanism for incorporating available data into its inbound mail monitoring and reporting processes.

Read full report

Comments (8)

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  • anon

    My package is now 14 days since processed through ISC Chicago. I believe something bad has happened. Other packages always came through New York ISC and would be scanned again within 6 days. It is a bad feeling to be wondering if your package will ever arrive. My mom and dad both worked for USP for over 20 years. Very disheartening.

    Feb 28, 2018
  • anon

    A package we are currently expecting left Frankfurt, Germany by aircraft on January 6 and it is at this time not even showing up as having reached the United States. The problem is clearly far bigger than outlined above. In the other direction, parcels sent using a similar service speed usually arrive at their destination within 10-12 days.

    Jan 23, 2018
  • anon

    My mail from South Africa arrived in United States of America on 10/31/2017 @ 21:49 haven't arrived on the destination any information I have to submit to get the parcel.

    Dec 08, 2017
  • anon

    Did you ever get this package. I am asking as I am really concern about how long my packing is taking as well.

    Jan 16, 2018
  • anon

    Hello, I have ordered small car part & its delivered through EMS mail since 13 August 2017 & until now its in same process when do track for it (your item has been processed through our facility in ISC New York NY USPS at 3:28pm on August 13,2017) & I send them I want refund they call me & said it may take from 30-45 days to be delivered!! note that its was delivered through EMS fast mail. So what is the issue with NY ISC? why is that all time delay for packages? Can you help please? thank you very much.

    Sep 14, 2017
  • anon

    This audit is a good spotlight on the gray areas between airlines/ground-handlers and receiving ISCs. Thank you for clarifying the issue of responsibility, especially since the UPU language on the subject is a little vague. A transport delivered event code (when the airline reports the arrival/unloading of the mail cargo) is defined by the IATA/UPU as “carrier surrenders control /custody to consignee or agent”. The clarification on this subject is important since – technically - USPS is the designated operator for other foreign posts. It follows that when an air carrier lands on U.S. soil, the Postal Service should be technically capable of monitoring the proper “tendering” of mail cargo – regardless of whose responsibility is the “root cause”. I can’t quite grasp why management disagrees with the second recommendation. Identifying the problems and pointing fingers is not the pro-active approach expected considering the whopping amount of delayed inbound mail. Management is basically saying ‘We know it’s the ground-handlers obligation, which is really the airlines' responsibility which is the originating post’s problem to begin (and end) with.’ Not recognizing the advantage of integrating the flight arrival data with its internal monitoring systems shows lack of concern and narrow focus in its overall role as a world-class designated operator and partner postal administration. With this information being transmitted through the EDI RESDIT channel, USPS can incorporate this data into a monitoring system which would automatically red-flag dispatches that are delayed by the ground-handlers. Even further, when a critical point is reached (such as 24-hour delay for example) a document file should be automatically generated and made available on USPS’s document portal system. This document should be formatted in accordance with UPU’s verification note standards and identify the “missing dispatch” in the form of a CP78/CN43 in PDF format. As a matter of fact, one of the irregularities listed on the VN summary codes is … Missing Dispatch. This solution would not only pro-actively identify late dispatches, but it will help USPS meet its own responsibility of providing verification notes to the originating posts. This requirement is also in the Letter Post Manual and should be immediately reconsidered by USPS management – and keeping in compliance with UPU regulations. I suggest starting slow – maybe begin with a pilot program integrating the transport arrival data and creating an efficient notification system for the Kahala Posts Group members. A pay-for-performance system would not work in this area since it may incentivize the receiving post to not cooperate with its foreign partner. So why wouldn’t postal management take a fresher look at Recommendation #2?

    Sep 14, 2017
  • anon

    If the problem is as described...lack of countrol of ground handler movement, while improved standard ramp reporting would help, that will only allow more accurate reporting, not correction of the problem.

    Sep 13, 2017
  • anon

    My complaint and concern is the consistent lost of mail to my home address whenever I make use of the "hold mail service. I have not made any complaint in writing but had made the supposedly "supervisor" in the USPS office aware, who only, always apologizes only. Important mails lost were bills and insurance renewal which had cost me time and money. I recommend a complaint system be in place where names of persons who had filed complaints are strictly kept confidential to avoid retaliation/retribution.

    Sep 13, 2017