NNA seeks USPS delivery reports

Aug 21, 2017

WASHINGTON—A quest for information about the speed of rural mail delivery continues without firm resolution, National Newspaper Association Postal Committee Chair Max Heath said.
“We get quarterly reports from the U.S. Postal Service about on-time delivery of Periodicals, Standard Mail and the like. For example, we know that this year so far, Periodicals overall have been delivered on time 83.5 percent of the time, and for the ‘end-to-end’ Periodicals that are sent outside the 5-digit zone, the on-time delivery is only 71.5 percent this year. Those numbers are not very encouraging, but it is what goes on behind them that most interests NNA,” Heath said.
“The systems that gather these data focus heavily upon urban and suburban mail because that is where most of the mail is.  We have long believed that if we could see rural mail performance separately, we would see an even glummer picture than USPS reports for overall mail. Since 2015, NNA has been trying to get regular reports on that mail. As of July this year, it appears we are not much closer to the goal than we were two years ago,” he said.  “NNA is going to ask the Postal Regulatory Commission to put our issue on the front burner.”
NNA Public Policy Director and General Counsel Tonda F. Rush noted that many hurdles remain.
Currently, USPS service performance data come from the tracing of mail through the Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb) for the business classes—Periodicals and “Marketing Mail” (formerly Standard Mail). For First-Class Mail, information comes from a monitoring system operated by IBM. In 2015, USPS began asking the Postal Regulatory Commission to drop the IBM study and allow USPS to use its own internal measurements to produce all the data. That request prompted NNA to ask for greater detail on the rural mail component.
The commission has not said yes or no to NNA’s request. Nor has it given USPS a final green light on the total reliance upon the internal systems, called Informed Visibility by USPS. Instead, the PRC has been pushing the Postal Service to demonstrate that it can operate the two systems in parallel for four consecutive fiscal quarters without displaying major data issues or discrepancies between the systems.  It also asked USPS for a plan for an outside auditor to oversee the use of the IV system. USPS was asked to supply its plan in July 2015. The plan was filed in February 2017, but answers to the PRC’s audit questions have not been provided.
Meanwhile, NNA has repeatedly secured requirements in legislative drafts to require the rural data to be reported. But as the Postal Service Reform Act of 2017 languishes in the House of Representatives, getting that requirement to President Trump’s desk is also on a slow track.
NNA President Matthew Paxton IV, publisher of the News-Gazette, Lexington, VA, said NNA would not let up on its drive to get meaningful rural mail data.
“We know USPS is capable of making these reports, and everyone from the commissioners to key members of Congress has agreed with us that knowing rural service data will be increasingly important if USPS has to close more mail processing facilities in the future.  But, like everything else in Washington, getting a proposal to the finish line takes a giant helping of patience. We have to keep a spotlight on the quality of service in rural areas. The mail is critical to the economies of many small towns.
“I am gratified that USPS management, including Postmaster General Megan Brennan, has told NNA informally that we ought to get the data and that USPS needs to be looking at the results. We have even seen some early beta results on the tracking system. We think USPS is using the reports internally, but are not sure. Even so, internal tracking is one thing. Making it public so people who use the system know what they can count on is another thing. We think USPS owes people full reports on what is going on from the mailer to the mailbox.”