Misrouted Mail Within the U.S. Postal Service Network

Objective

Our objective was to determine why there is misrouted mail and its impact on the Postal Service.

Service standards are the Postal Service’s stated delivery performance goals for each mail class measured in days from point of entry into the mailstream to final destination. These standards are one of the primary operational goals or benchmarks against which the Postal Service measures its performance.

The Postal Service defines misrouted or missent mail as mail sent from an originating facility to the wrong destinating facility. For example, mail originating in Albany, NY, that is addressed to Tampa, FL, but is received in San Francisco, CA.

The Postal Service captures misrouted mail data for First-Class letters in the Mail History Tracking System (MHTS) and for First-Class packages and Priority Mail in the Service and Field Operations Performance Management (SFOPM) system.

The Postal Service processed over 47 billion First-Class letters and over [redacted] First-Class packages and Priority Mail from March 1 through to September 30, 2020.

We judgmentally selected 21 processing and distribution centers (P&DC) across the country for review based on misrouted mail and mail volume data from March 1 through September 30, 2020. We selected high-, medium-, and low-risk sites based on the amount of misrouted mail relative to overall mail volume.

We visited six of the 21 selected P&DCs in person and performed virtual visits for the remaining 15 P&DCs.

Findings

While the overall percentage of misrouted mail is small compared to total volume processed, there are opportunities for the Postal Service to improve its oversight and reduce misrouted mail.

From March 1 through September 30, 2020, the Postal Service reported almost 73 million misrouted First-Class letters, or .15 percent of total First-Class letter volume processed. During this same period, the Postal Service also reported almost [redacted] misrouted First-Class packages and Priority Mail, or about [redacted] percent of total First-Class packages and Priority Mail volume processed.

Our audit was conducted during a challenging period for the Postal Service as the number of employees available to work was lower than usual and the number of packages mailed increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Postal Service headquarters management said this impacted management’s ability to properly oversee misrouted mail and to ensure proper handling procedures of employees. This aligns with our observations as we found management did not:

  • Ensure that employees removed old mail routing labels from reusable mail trays and bags for transportation and delivery.
  • Always follow automated standard work instructions for package sorting machines or ensure that machine belt calibrations were completed to prevent packages from missing the intended mail bins and landing on the mail processing floor.
  • Ensure that employees removed full mail bins timely from processing machines to prevent mail from building up and obstructing the mail chute (overflow) causing incoming mail pieces to be deflected into the wrong mail bin.

As a result, the Postal Service spent almost $110 million between March 1 and September 30, 2020, to reprocess, rehandle, and redirect misrouted mail. Further, misrouted mail has a high risk of not meeting its stated service performance standards, which could hurt the Postal Service’s brand.

Additionally, opportunities exist for the Postal Service to improve the reliability of misrouted mail data. Postal Service misrouted mail data did not always identify the correct originating facility responsible for the misrouted mail. We found that when mail is diverted from the intended originating facility to a different sorting facility and that facility sends the mail to an incorrect destinating facility, the MHTS and SFOPM system assigns misrouted mail to the intended origination facility rather than the actual diverted mail processing facility.

The Postal Service has long-term mail agreements with various facilities to divert mail for processing to meet service standards. If the intended processing facility has challenges such as employee availability or insufficient capacity that could prevent it from processing mail timely, management can divert mail to another facility that can process it timely and meet service standards. For example, the Madison, WI, P&DC diverted mail to other facilities for processing. However, when any of this mail was misrouted, it was reported as misrouted from the Madison P&DC facility, not the facility where the mail was diverted to and actually processed. Specifically, the Madison P&DC has routinely diverted mail to two other P&DCs for at least seven years, but any diverted mail that is subsequently misrouted from those facilities is identified as being misrouted by the Madison P&DC.

As a result, the Postal Service cannot always reliably monitor misrouted mail, identify the originating facility, and make appropriate business decisions to resolve issues with misrouted mail.

During our site visits, we identified best practices at four P&DCs related to management and oversight of misrouted mail that included:

  • Communicating with other facilities regarding misrouted mail received and including pictures of misrouted mail and corresponding placards and labels.
  • Ensuring sorting bins for similar numeric ZIP Codes were not placed next to each other at the end of the mail chute.
  • Adding extra containers next to high-volume ZIP Codes so employees can easily replace containers to catch packages that could flyover the intended sorting bin and onto the floor as it flows down the chute.
  • Ensuring sorting bins for high-volume ZIP Codes are not placed directly next to each other to prevent mail from quickly building up in the chute (overflow).
  • Conducting misrouted mail studies to identify areas for improvement and develop improvement actions.

Recommendations

We recommended management:

  • Provide written communication to employees reinforcing the standard operating procedures requiring employees to remove old routing labels from mail trays and bags before reuse.
  • Require supervisors to ensure that employees comply with standard work instructions for removing nonmachinable mail from automated processing machines and complete preventive maintenance to ensure packages are sorted to mail bins correctly.
  • Provide written communication to employees reinforcing the policy requiring employees to remove mail bins timely from the processing machines to prevent overflow.
  • Implement the management and oversight best practices identified at four P&DCs at other facilities nationwide, where feasible.
  • Review the feasibility of updating the MHTS and SFOPM system or develop alternatives to ensure they accurately reflect the correct facility processing and misrouting the mail.

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