Our objective was to determine the reasons certain full-service mail volume is excluded from the Postal Service’s service performance measurement.
The Postal Service uses Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMb) on mailpieces to sort and track mail. The IMb allows mailers and the Postal Service to track each mailpiece from acceptance to delivery, which helps calculate the service performance of each piece. In exchange for putting IMbs on mailpieces, the Postal Service offers mailers free address corrections on their mailpieces, eliminates permit fees for mailing from more than one location, and provides automation discounts. These services are called full-service mail. However, full-service mail that does not meet mail preparation requirements or comply with certain business rules, such as missing key scan data, is excluded from service performance measurement.
Beginning in FY 2019, the Postal Service began using the Service Performance Measurement (SPM) system as it’s official measurement system. This system replaced the External First-Class Measurement (EXFC) and Intelligent Mail Accuracy and Performance (iMAP) systems. This change was approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) in 2018. The Postal Service stated the new measurement system would provide more accurate, reliable, and representative service performance reporting by gathering data from multiple sources and including live scans of the billions of mailpieces moving through the postal network, rather than relying on samples of test pieces and test recipients. Both the SPM and iMAP systems used “stop-the-clock” scans on sampled mailpieces to extrapolate service performance over the population of full-service mail. When mail is excluded from measurement, it is not part of the service performance calculation.
On September 30, 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued the report Actions Needed to Make Delivery Performance Information More Complete, Useful, and Transparent (Report No. GAO-15-756). This report found the Postal Service’s service performance scores did not include certain mailpieces that should have been measured. GAO found that 45 percent of market dominant mail was excluded from measurement because of untrackable barcodes, unknown acceptance times, no barcode scans, or inaccuracies in mail preparation. As a result, the PRC initiated a public proceeding to address the completeness of the Postal Service’s service performance measurement. This led, in FY 2016, to the Postal Service reporting mail volume excluded from service performance measurement to the PRC on a quarterly basis.
While the number of full-service mailpieces excluded from service performance measurement decreased by 2 billion pieces, or 8.4 percent, from FY 2017 to 2018, over 21.7 billion mailpieces, or 21.7 percent of all full-service mail, was excluded from service performance measurement in FY 2018. Additionally, through the first three quarters of FY 2019, more than 17.4 billion mailpieces, or 23.4 percent of all full-service mailpieces, were excluded from service performance measurement.
Almost 74 percent of the excluded mail in FY 2019 was excluded for one of three reasons: no start-the-clock scan, no piece scan, and long haul. As of the third quarter of FY 2019, we noted:
- More than 6.1 billion mailpieces, or 35.1 percent of total excluded pieces, were excluded from service performance measurement due to no start-the-clock scan. A start-the-clock is when the Postal Service collects an initial scan of the mailpiece. This scan may be missing when employees do not scan the containers of mail when they are received or if a container is missing its barcode.
Start-the-clock scans may also be missing as a result of how mailers manage their consolidated mail. When mailers create mailings, their planned manifest assigns individual mailpieces to barcoded containers. However, mailers may consolidate mail to reduce containers when loading trucks but fail to update the manifest to reassign mailpieces to their actual containers. As a result, the mailpieces that were reassigned to new containers will not receive a start-the-clock scan. According to Postal Service data, only 48 percent of expected bundled flat containers in FY 2019 were scanned as entering the network, indicating that this is a significant issue.
- More than 4 billion mailpieces, or 23.3 percent of total excluded pieces, were excluded from service performance measurement due to no piece scans. No piece scans occur when there is no processing scan for the mailpiece, or when mailer manifests do not reflect the actual mailpieces entered into the Postal Service network.
- More than 2.6 billion mailpieces, or 15 percent of total excluded pieces, were excluded from service performance measurement due to long haul. Long haul occurs when a mailpiece at a mailer’s facility, or detached mail unit, is transported by the Postal Service to a mail processing facility in a different district. Currently, there is no automated process to determine the specific time mail leaves a detached mail unit to start its service performance measurement. Therefore, that mail is excluded from service measurement. According to Postal Service management, a mobile software application (app) is being developed to enable this mail to be included in service performance measurement. Postal Service management stated they started a pilot with select mailers in September 2019 to test this app.
These exclusions occurred because the Postal Service has not addressed the various root causes for mail excluded from service performance measurement. While the Postal Service has identified 15 reason categories for exclusions, such as no start-the-clock, no piece scan and long haul, there could be multiple causes within each exclusion category for why it was excluded. We interviewed the mailers with the most no start-the-clock scans, no piece scans, and long haul exclusions and none had been notified by the Postal Service their mail was excluded from service performance measurement. These mailers had almost 3.7 billion mailpieces excluded from service performance measurement through the first three quarters of FY 2019. The Postal Service publishes a weekly exclusions report on Informed Visibility, its platform to report service performance measurement and diagnostics of market dominant products. However, these reports show exclusions by reason category and do not identify the root-causes of exclusions. Further, the mailers we interviewed did not know this data existed, nor did they have access to this data or report.
While service exclusions were not on the agenda for the Mailer Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) meetings, the Postal Service did communicate causes of service exclusion at a high level to mailers during MTAC meetings. The main communication with individual mailers regarding root-causes of exclusions should come from area and district personnel. However, we found area and district staff had an inconsistent understanding of their roles concerning service exclusions. Staff in one area stated they were instructed not to contact large mailers about mailpiece exclusions. In another example, staff in one area stated they contact mailers related to mail quality but not exclusions, while staff in another area stated there are not enough resources dedicated to reducing mailpieces excluded from service performance measurement.
By excluding almost one-quarter of full-service mail from measurement, the Postal Service does not have visibility into the mailpieces at various points in the mail cycle. When the Postal Service does not have visibility into the acceptance, processing, or transporting of excluded mailpieces, the Postal Service and mailers do not have complete performance information to help manage their operations.
We recommended management:
- Form a workgroup with mailers that have the largest amount of mail excluded from measurement to develop an action plan, with goals, timelines and practical opportunities to address root causes of service performance exclusions.
- Ensure area and district offices understand their roles and responsibilities regarding addressing causes of mail excluded from service performance measurement.