The U.S. Postal Service considers mail to be delayed when it’s not processed in time to meet the established delivery day. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? But determining whether mail is actually delayed — even when it’s reported as delayed — isn’t always a straightforward proposition.

Take, for instance, what happened when we analyzed delayed mail volume at mail processing facilities nationwide from January 1 to December 31, 2020. We found the North Houston Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC) in Texas reported the most delayed mail in the nation. Not so surprising, given the facility processed the most mail in the country last year. But as we note in our recent audit report — one in a series we are doing on processing plant performance — it turns out not all 3.6 billion pieces the facility reported as delayed for the year were truly delayed. 

Our initial objective was to identify the causes of delays at the North Houston P&DC, and we found they were occurring due to late-arriving mail and decreased employee availability, the latter a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. An increase in package volume also contributed.

During our site observations, though, we discovered the North Houston P&DC management wasn’t processing mail on the normal sort plan. Instead, the sort plan being used bypassed certain operations, which in turn caused mail to be reported as delayed. So, while 3.6 billion is the official reported tally, the actual number of delayed mailpieces at North Houston for 2020 was undoubtedly less. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to determine the precise number.

Still, we made a recommendation on how to reduce late-arriving mail, and USPS management accepted it. That — and more employees eventually returning to work — should help decrease the amount of delayed mail at North Houston P&DC, whatever the true amount is.

Comments (73)

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  • anon

    My mail carrier has told me himself that unless it has my last name on it, he won’t deliver it. Well I do have mail that still comes in my maiden name. Also I find it funny (not) that I have missing offers in the mail for CCs and I’m experiencing fraud in my name.

    Sep 16, 2021
  • anon

    I had a Priority Mail envelope which I mailed from the Henrico, NC post office on August 30, 2021 going to Ellicott City, MD. It arrived at at the Raleigh distribution center on August 31 and finally departed Raleigh on September 4 and that is where all tracking has stopped. I just keep getting messages that "my package will arrive later than expected", and "in transit, arriving late". No one knows where my mail is and I can't get any answers. I am absolutely disgusted with the incompetence of the postal service. I spent $7.95 to be able to track my mail and it has disappeared.

    Sep 10, 2021
  • anon

    Same boat as most everyone else here. Sent package to Japan on August 20th guaranteed delivery for August 28th. Scanned at Chicago ISC on August 21st and then nothing. Calling only gets you "call back in 24 hours as representatives don't have any more information than is online for tracking". Incredible that you can have a Priority Mail Express International Package that gets scanned and then doesn't move for weeks. So much for spending hundreds of dollars to have it shipped. What in the world is wrong with the USPS that this can happen?

    Sep 07, 2021
  • anon

    I have ordered albums and they’ve been sitting in ISC Chicago IL since August 23. I do not know what’s going on. I just want to know when I can get my packages bc I ordered those in July and I had to wait for South Korea to send them which took time but them being stuck in that facility in Chicago feels like it took more time than in South Korea

    Sep 05, 2021
  • anon

    Delayed mail ?? I retired Dec 1 2021. Roughly in Sept 2021 USPS newly appointed PMG Louis DeJoy decided that all mail would be cased after delivery of morning mail. This alone delayed mail by 1 day. COVID had many offices left with zero carriers. Rural carriers are paid a salary and thus do not earn OT for being over hours paid as long as under 54 hrs week. I worked 9-10 hrs day REG and my pay was for 8.5 . Parcels are crazy. We were required to return several times a day for late arriving parcels. We were called at home at 8pm asking us if we delivered a parcel because the scan had not shown up in reports. The delay would show up several hrs later. Our office had 100% scanned parcels. really ?? NOPE. The managers would go through list and manually put them through as being delivered. This act has been going on in my office for last 4 years. Our office had a parcel increase of 1000%...yes 1,000 percent. NO dispatch time change. I was required to drive like a manic just to make dispatch. The younger carriers drove even faster. I am the only carrier to retire at age 60 with 27 yrs. The rest of my office has 2 carriers 50yrs old and they have another 10 yrs to go. We AS RURAL CARRIERS have been abused by the time system. It worked in our favor before parcels because we did not take a break to eat or anything. I had to pee in a container in back of mail truck!! The reason is time. 10 min to drive back to office . 5 min in bathroom. 10 min back to where I left off. That is 25 minutes....IF traffic was light. I could not go back to office just for bathroom. Our start times were increased to 830 am instead of 630 am. Our mail arrived 6am, but clerk hrs were cut so they could not finish sorting our mail UNTIL 830 am. Dispatch was still 530 pm- since 1993. There were many many times where someone had to drive and get all our mail we had collected at 520pm to give to truck driver and then the manager had to take our remaining collected mail that was after 530pm and drive it to another office that had a later dispatch time. This is just a few things that have delayed mail. This has been a nightmare for last 7 yrs.

    Sep 01, 2021
  • anon

    I have an item I ordered from China, that CLEARED customs in USA on 08/02/2021. USPS Tracking shows "Your item has been processed through our facility in ISC CHICAGO IL (USPS) at 4:19 pm on August 24, 2021", there is no movement since. I filed a formal complaint, the reply was "Customs can hold packages for investigation for up to 45 days." The package was already cleared by customs at another facility, not accepting their excuse. Obviously there is a problem at ISC Chicago, IL - they are just piling our packages up somewhere.

    Aug 30, 2021
  • anon

    I ordered a costume part off of Etsy a while ago. It’s coming from the Netherland, so I expected a long wait time, but this is ridiculous. It shipped on about august 3rd, and after taking 7 days to get accepted, 9 days in customs, now I have been waiting for it to get out of Isc Chicago il for 5 days. It was supposed to arrive on the 18, about a week ago. I hope to god that I get it before it becomes a real shipping horror story. Something should be done about this, and all of these ridiculous waits depicted in all of these stories. Next time I’m ordering something over 100$, it won’t be from the usps

    Aug 24, 2021
  • anon

    I'm in the same boat. I bought a guitar from the Netherlands for my daughter, and our dates are exactly the same. Now I can only hope it isn't damaged and gets here soon

    Aug 30, 2021
  • anon

    I mailed a package out to my daughter in South Africa on July 2, 2021. It was mailed priority mail, which I paid for and it has been stuck in the U.S. since! I have mailed packages before and it takes a good amount of time for her to get them, but the issue is always when it gets to South Africa!! It hasn't even left the U.S. yet! She needs this package and it's getting ridiculous. When I look at the tracking, it goes back and forth and back and forth between facilities and then got stuck in Chicago!! I haven't had an update since Aug. 2nd. And the contact numbers are a joke. It's all automated and just keeps having me put in the tracking number and then gives me the latest update that I can see online. I am so frustrated that I can't even talk to a real person! My local post office just shrugs their shoulders. I paid for priority!!

    Aug 18, 2021
  • anon

    I had my mail going to my dad's house for a while, but I don't stay with him anymore I actually moved in to an apartment in the same complex I put in a change of address which it was just the same except for the apartment number and everything changed and very sufficient time and I'm getting my mail now they held it for a couple days but now my dad has not received any mail for 4 days and he gets mail every day for him or my mom I checked my change-of-address I did not put entire house I only put for myself there's no reason why my Dad's mail. Or be held he had a stroke a couple years ago he cannot fill out paperwork or call and speak to you all about it properly so we are trying to inquire about it and I don't know who I need to speak with there is important mail that should be coming and probably already has and we need to find out where it's at and how he gets it

    Aug 16, 2021
  • anon

    Hello Ginni, Thank you for your comment. Regarding your concern, please contact Postal Service Consumer Affairs Office at https://postalpro.usps.com/ppro-tools/consumer-affairs

    Aug 31, 2021
  • anon

    You do know that the contact given in this link is useless, don't you? It simply redirects to customer care, who keeps repeating the same darn thing over and over again. They have no freaking clue where the package is. USPS is a failed postal system worse than any 3rd world country. Cannot believe that we live in the "best country" in the world and our postal system cannot locate a freaking First Class package.

    Sep 03, 2021
  • anon

    I have been waiting for my package to pass through ISC Chicago for weeks, it is a simple item for my garden from Latvia, I live in Boston so I'm not sure why it went to Chicago as opposed to New York ISC but previous commenters are correct, a top to bottom investigation of that facility needs to be performed. If the workers there don't know what they are doing, fire them and hire logistic support that does. I have never had an item coming USPS go through customs and take weeks, it makes me terrified of ordering an item overseas again.

    Aug 09, 2021
  • anon

    Same thing, I ordered various stuff from Aliexpress, everything arrived, just a package is stuck there since August 9th, all is coming to California, almost everything come thru ISC San Bernardino, and last like a week or more and I thought it was slow, now almost a month thru ISC Chicago and nothing, same thing but I don't know if its USPS or Customs, but LW tracking from China says: New York Haul Hoout... Since 2 months ago...wtf, are just toys

    Sep 07, 2021
  • anon

    What is going on. I have 4 packages now in Chicago. One all the way from April. What is going on??? The is just unacceptable.

    Aug 03, 2021
  • anon

    Why do packages that go into USPS Regional Facility PHILADELPHIA PA NETWORK DISTRIBUTION CENTER take Days or more to get out.

    Aug 03, 2021
  • anon

    I suspect the packages are not sitting in PA Distribution Center. They have been sent to another center across the US somewhere and are floating out there. I have had that happen many times. The tracking is turned off at the last destination.

    Aug 06, 2021
  • anon

    I order a package from China on May 2, 2021. On June 27th it reached ISC Chicago and posted a delivery date of July 2, 2021. A few days later that date disappeared and the package has been sitting with ISC Chicago and has yet to move or update on delivery progress. I contacted USPS who stated the package is stuck with customs and they cannot do anything. This is ridiculous and very poor logistics/management. It states processed through ISC Chicago so why not send the package. This is worse than Baltimore - USPS who delayed my clients Wedding photos and gifts months.

    Aug 03, 2021
  • anon

    Hello Christian, Thank you for your comment. Regarding your concern, please contact Postal Service Consumer Affairs Office at https://postalpro.usps.com/ppro-tools/consumer-affairs

    Aug 31, 2021
  • anon

    My lifelong support of the USPS has dramatically changed in the last 2 years. Lost mail and packages, no accountability. Staff morale seems at an all time low. USPS has lost our mortgage payment, bank checks, and many other packages and who knows how many letters. We have changed our purchasing habits and try to purchase goods online only from sellers who will ship through UPS or FedEx. Louis DeJoy is a problem creator, not a problem solver. He is arrogant and incompetent and a bully.

    Jul 30, 2021
  • anon

    USPS has turned into a “bureaucracy of red tape”, with no accountability, no realistic complaints system, and total indifference to it’s mission. ,Junk mail, scam mail, unsolicited mail are all flowing smoothly. It’s the important mail that is without priority or concern. Lazy postal employees find rudeness results in less work for them. The dedicated employees are barely surviving among the misfits. This system is broken at the executive levels with trickledown through upper management levels. Shameful!

    Jul 28, 2021
  • anon

    I won't shop with anyone who sends packages through USPS anymore. Half of my packages never show up and the few that did are always days late. A few years ago I had around $1k in wall hangings that were stuck in facility and never found and took 6 months to finally get a refund. Considering this has been a problem for decades I have zero hope it will ever get fixed. If only as much energy was put into fixing the problem as coming up with excuses.

    Jul 28, 2021
  • anon

    Item shipped from the UK and as of today, July 25, is sitting in the Chicago ISC facility since July 07. I called and was told, “yeah it’s there and we’ll get it to you as soon as possible”. It’s no wonder USPS is losing money hand over fist.

    Jul 25, 2021
  • anon

    My packages is stuck in ISC Chicago since 17 may i have sent 3 pakages to be sent out to KSA 2 and after toooooo many calls they did scan 2 packages 15 july, the other package still missing, also it seems like they just scanned them and put them on side still there since 17 may today 23 july I don't know what I have to do. The shipment value is 1200 dollars and I paid 400 dollars as a shipping fees it was supposed to be express shipping service it should arrive within 10 days but it is been 10 weeks But it's been 10 weeks and its still stuck in Chicago

    Jul 23, 2021
  • anon

    Can I ask what number you called? I have had an international package sitting there for a bit now, and I have tried to call the ISC Chicago phone number on their business listing, but it always says that there are no people to take the call. I do have the option to leave a message, is it worth doing?

    Jul 29, 2021
  • anon

    You’re not alone. I was supposed to receive packages and they make it to isc in Chicago since early May. Its been sitting in customs since. Pretty bad! Only in America

    Jul 26, 2021
  • anon

    I have had a package I was promised would be delivered today. It is a perishable item and it has been in Cook County, Chicago, IL sitting since July 17. It is ridiculous since most people are vaccinated and cannot use covid as an excuse. Maybe the postal service should start being held accountable and be made to reimburse customers their money for ruined and lost items.

    Jul 21, 2021
  • anon

    I bought an item from the UK on eBay, seller shipped the item on June 22, 2021. Item arrived in Chicago ISC on June 24, 2021. There has been no movement on the package since then. Expected delivery date was July 16 and that date has come and gone with no package and no update. I have contacted both Royal Mail and USPS and both say it is out of their control. Can anyone HELP?

    Jul 20, 2021
  • anon

    I quit buying from companies that ship using USPS altogether. I have a package that was shipped to me May 25th. from Europe. It arrives to Chicago ISC a week later. It sits in Chicago ISC until June 28th then goes into customs. July 11th it makes it out of customs and on the same day finally my tracking updates saying the package will be in my mailbox around July 16th. It is July 19th and I have not got a single update since the 11th. USPS has proven to be the most incompetent mail service ever. For 2 months now I have not used USPS for anything. Fedex and UPS have their delays from time to time but the package gets delivered anyways. USPS, you never know if you will get it.

    Jul 19, 2021
  • anon

    I have been waiting for a month for a package from ISC Chicago to be sent out to Japan. At this point COVID and manpower shortage is no longer an excuse. Its just pure incompetence of ISC Chicago and USPS as a whole. It ridiculous. I've had a package ship from California on June 30 makes its way through the states to ISC Chicago and make it here July 10th. That's a third the time my earlier package has been sitting there. I've also had several other packages go through ISC Chicago since then and they all make it here (Japan) in a timely manner. How is that even possible? At this point should I just assume my package was stolen and give up hope of it ever showing up?

    Jul 14, 2021
  • anon

    I've had a parcel that was sent express from England and has been in Chicago since May 26th. I'm sorry but this is ridiculous even with staff shortages and covid. I'm actually appalled! And now refuse to send anything through till the states till this is resolved!

    Jul 11, 2021
  • anon

    Same here, posted package to Australia from UK on 10/6. It’s been at Illinois since July. Tracking keep saying “in transit to next facility “ so frustrating and worrying!

    Aug 22, 2021
  • anon

    I made a comment yesterday that didn't make the cut, how is it that major player in the mail delivery game can't get their act together, people complain about being out of jobs well if its about mail sorting then get hiring my package has been sitting since June 5th, 2021 says its " In transit". Enough is enough you are ruining the reputation of small businesses who have to absorb the costs of your disconcern for peoples items, some are precious, some are business materials someone might need to get a contract or a job and all they do is shrug shoulders and say they are looking into it. I think we are past the point of blaming covid and the influx of packages nothing has change just the post master who thinks doing it the old school way will work better...............look at where it has got you I have two tournaments because I dont have my equipment that i ordered and no help what so ever, dont know how you can operate like this and expect people to support you.

    Jul 06, 2021
  • anon

    My comment yesterday did not make the cut either. I just wonder if the comments posted by customers in this OIG blog are just "selected and filtered" in order to allow only the posting of the "less severe cases of gross incompetence", leaving out of view the worst cases in order to sabotage evidence of the truth of how the USPS is operating . My case consist of a certified letter (with signature and proof receipt) mailed as certified (7/14/2021) from Jensen Beach to St Petersburg, Florida, that never reached the destination, even after 15 days "in transit" and their system tracking consistently indicating "in transit" and with an "arrive late" status. When I went to present my case to the Jensen Beach branch (place of origin) they unprofessionally and unethically opted to verbally mistreat me (yelling at me) saying in front of other customers: Leave the premises now or we will call the police! I am a senior citizen (70 y.o.) and never ever treated like that before. I am a customer and I not only expect a better service from the USPS but a treatment with deserved respect and basic human sensitivity and specially coming from a governmental agency that I contribute with my federal taxes to their own existence. My expectations with the USPS is that they deliver the certified letter on time, collect the signature, send me back the receipt, and scan the letter so it will show its location at the different stages of delivery, something basic in any tracking system. Also I expect that when presenting to them the situation of issue at hand for them to correct and or just handle and acknowledge that they pay attention and use respect and rules of customer service. I should treated with deserved respect as a customer of the USPS while presenting any service case for their attention. A "deserved attention" to a case when the customer presents to them the details of their service mistake. In fact, the only way for them to resolve any service situation is just for them to listen to the customer and then proceed later to resolve the issue, if solvable. However, a desire to professionally and ethically solve an issue is vital even if the issue is unsolvable by the USPS. The case (mine in particular) should not escalate to gross elderly customer abuse and or elderly abuse. It is already bad enough for the USPS like it is with very clear evidence that they can not even deliver certified letters and can not track the locations of the letters even after 15 days.

    Jul 29, 2021
  • anon

    Please address the ISC in Chicago. The facility seems to be falling apart at the seams.

    Jun 29, 2021
  • anon

    ^^^This^^^

    Jun 30, 2021
  • anon

    Agreed. I've had several packages stuck there for ages, and I live IN Chicago. There is no good reason packages (with only clothing items in them) should be stuck in this facility for upwards of two months at a time.

    Jul 08, 2021
  • anon

    My package has been sitting in ISC Chicago Il (USPS) since June 5 with no update whatsoever. I just want to know if the package is ever going to be delivered. How much longer do I have to wait! No one knows anything! NEVER TRUST USPS!!!!!!!!!

    Jun 29, 2021
  • anon

    I have had 5 packages shipped to China in the past few months. One took 53 days to get there. I shipped a second one via Express Priority International to China on April 29th and it is still in ISC. I shipped another one at the same time and it took 30 days to get there via Priority mail. I shipped another package to China via Priority International on June second and it is still in transit and has not even made it to ISC. I've decided not to use usps anymore because it takes too long and I'm afraid that it will just sit for months. I've called USPS twice and filed cases on every package. This is getting ridiculous. I paid the amount they wanted to ship there and I'm not getting any good results. It's a hit or miss. Why is this happening? No one seems to know anything. I'm about to lose 2k on one of these packages.

    Jun 27, 2021
  • anon

    I had an anniversary gift made in Bulgaria and Send out in May - the package has been sitting in ISC Chicago Il (USPS) since June 4 with no movement whatsoever. It would be nice to knw if it was ever going to be delivered. My anniversary was a month ago...so that was a bit disappointing. William Szymczak

    Jun 24, 2021
  • anon

    I left a comment but do not see it

    Jun 24, 2021
  • anon

    I am waiting on mail from Chicago ISC. Supposed processed through. Nothing for 24 days. This package contained my late father's mementos who passed May 2021. Tracking is meant to mean something. It means nothing once in Chicago facility. Saying it was processed through must be a lie or it would have been "in transit", not "gone" from any further inquiry.

    Jun 24, 2021
  • anon

    Serious issues with delayed outgoing mail once it reaches Little Rock, AR distribution center. Often mail is frozen there for months before being sent to next location in the delivery chain. This occurs with both media mail and international mail packages. Impossible to talk to or even email anyone about issues. This blog is apparently the only way to make anyone aware. I hope someone finds it. None of info above in the yellow box in red letters will get you anywhere, an email system that doesn't work and a phone number with no menu selection that you can use.

    Jun 24, 2021
  • anon

    I realise USPS is still recovering from the Holiday/Covid crisis but on May 31st 2021 my gf mailed me a letter from her local post office in 77024, it has been over 3 weeks & I have yet to receive it. My zip code is 77034. With light traffic I can drive to her house in one hour. Is this normal for a regular letter to take 3+ weeks to make it from one end of Houston to the other?

    Jun 22, 2021
  • anon

    Please, please do an investigation at ISC Chicago to see why the delays are consistently too long. All you have to do is type ISC Chicago into a google search engine and there are pages and pages where people report their personal experience with extremely long delays and other types of mail neglect and crime dating back from this present day to 15 years ago! For 15 years or over nothing has changed or been revised over there in attempt to help so many Americans receive their mail and packages in a somewhat timely manor? There literally are dozens of complaints on a month to month basis spanning the entire 10 years past. No other ISC in the country has as many problems as Chicago. Why is this? I read posts from people who regularly get international packages as well as from sellers and in some cases companies will actually resend the purchased item free of charge right away if it happens to land at ISC Chicago because they say ‘it is as good as gone’ or ‘basically like it was never sent in the first place’ if It lands there. Companies like to be known for timely shipping and because that sorting center makes it impossible for them to maintain good reputations, they basically cancel out the item sent that landed at Chicago and send another right away hoping and praying that this time it will arrive in another state’s ISC. It is so much easier than having long drawn out back and forths with customers for months over where their package is, what the refund policy is, will they give a refund etc etc., and then having their company get a bad reputation when it is really not their fault that the mail was mishandled, lost, stolen, confiscated, whatever the case at ISC Chicago. There must be something to be learned as to why that place, out of every other ISC by far, is responsible for so many problems and the longest delays. I have had 3 Amazon orders cancelled by the sellers and reshipped because they landed there and were guaranteed by a certain date. You know, even if the issue Is that the reason for such delays and missing mail is because they scrutinizes each and every piece throughly and confiscate more packages than any other ISC, it isn’t really helping anymore when most this stuff gets resent immediately with the chance it will end up at a different ISC that processes things more quickly and enters the country anyway because of ISC Chicago’s awful reputation. Then as a result more illegal stuff will end up entering the country since it does happen that 3-9 months later, the original first sent package actually does get cleared, or found, and delivered. Then there is a surplus of whatever it is they were trying to keep out of the country anyway with their lengthly time consuming inspections. Somehow, I don’t really need think that that scenario is what is happening over at ISC Chicago because out of so many of the stories and experiences I have read and learned about I didn’t find any having to do with peoples packages actually being confiscated or having that communicated to them by CBP. That is why many think they steal them because the mail just never shows up in most cases without any communication as to why it didn’t show up. The place needs to be investigated because in either way you look at it, the sorting facility is completely ineffective.

    May 24, 2021
  • anon

    Thank you for this comment. ISC Chicago is a scandal, and needs to be addressed.

    Jun 22, 2021
  • anon

    Agree’d isc Chicago is a joke

    Jun 22, 2021
  • anon

    Mail would be much less delayed if your new Postmaster General would stop ripping things out, for example the big post sorting machine he messed with. He is actively trying to sabotaged our mail services and privatise it. I for one am against this.

    May 24, 2021
  • anon

    I would like it to be known that we have never had any mail delivery issues UNTIL Louis DeJoy took over. I received a Christmas card in MARCH for crying out loud!!! My prayers and rage go to those keeping senior citizens from receiving their needed medications! With this kind of service, DeJoy should be FIRED.

    May 24, 2021
  • anon

    I don't believe a word of this. Why? Because I know what has been done by Louis DeJoy to delay our mail. I don't blame the postal workers at all. I also know that mail has been delayed and by not just a day here or there either. I do not what my mail service cut back or sent to private companies. My meds last month were almost 30 days late, 30 days! The post office ran much better before DeJoy and he must go. When he is gone the postal service can be restored and then improved even more to make it more efficient and better for the postal workers too.

    May 23, 2021

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