USPS OIG: No Holds Barred – Or Missed

You may not have heard the term advance electronic data (AED), but that’s likely to change with the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act in place. AED, which includes information about a package’s content, is an important component in ensuring the security of packages coming into the United States through the international mail system.

The STOP Act is part of a sweeping law meant to help address the opioids crisis. It requires that foreign posts provide AED to the U.S. Postal Service on inbound international packages. The law will require AED on 100 percent of incoming shipments by the end of this year unless a country applies for a waiver.

AED includes details about the shipment, including package contents as well as both the sender’s and recipient’s respective name and address. For inbound mailings, AED is sent from the originating foreign post to the Postal Service, which then routes it to Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

CBP, which is responsible for collecting duties on packages and ensuring they meet U.S. regulations, has described AED as helping to make the haystack smaller when looking for a needle that is a potential threat. Based on AED, CBP requests the Postal Service hold specific mailpieces for further review before allowing them to enter the U.S. mailstream.

Our office recently released the Advance Electronic Data Holds and Reliability audit report. Our auditors reviewed the holds process and found the Postal Service did not always fulfill CBP’s hold requests for inbound international mail. In some cases, operational issues were to blame, such as a failure to scan mailpieces. Other reasons for missed holds were due to other system and timing issues, including no CBP hold alert or incorrect AED from the foreign post.

Still, USPS’s compliance rate has improved steadily in recent years: it was 88 percent in 2018, up from 79 percent in 2017 and 67 percent in 2016. And recent actions the Postal Service has taken to address missed holds – including enhancing its operational scanning capabilities, staff training, facility-specific action plans, and ability to capture holds throughout its network – have helped it improve AED hold compliance rate to 93 percent through April 2019.

Our report also recommended USPS implement a control that does not allow the “comment” field in its system for reporting missed holds to be left blank. By requiring a reason for the missed hold in that field, the Postal Service would be able to monitor the reasons and make a fix.

Are there other ways to prevent opioids from moving through the international mailstream?


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