More than six months ago, published reports warned about a problem with Intelligent Mail barcodes — the practice of letter carriers crossing out the barcode on misaddressed mail. Today, the Postal Service finally got around to correcting the problem.
The January 28 issue of the Postal Bulletin includes an item called “Do Not Obliterate the Barcode” that contained the following:
“The Intelligent Mail® barcode contains important data that is used to provide mailers — including the Census Bureau — with information, such as when the mailing entered the mailstream and undeliverable or address correction information. But technology cannot reliably produce this information if it can’t read the barcode.
"That’s why the Postal Service™ is telling employees to make sure they don’t obliterate the barcode as mail moves through the system. Specifically, employees should not mark through, obliterate, or affix any labels over the Intelligent Mail barcode.”
It also included a reproduction of a poster (below) being used to brief employees on the issue.
Back in July, Monica Lundquist of Window Book Inc. published an item about crossed-out IMbs, and other Web sites subsequently did the same. I'm told that postal officials were made aware of the issue more than a year ago.
Lundquist described what typically happens when a letter carrier ends up with undeliverable mail: "When the carrier determines that the recipient is no longer at the address on the mailpiece, or that the mailpiece is otherwise undeliverable as addressed, the piece is sent to a Computerized Forwarding System (CFS) center for further processing. The CFS sites are where the ACS notices are generated. Before this is done, however, the mail carrier manually crosses out the barcode on the mailpiece so that the piece does not get re-directed to the old or bad address."
That's fine for traditional barcodes. But when it happens to Intelligent Mail barcodes, the Postal Service is not able to process the address correction in the Intelligent Mail program. Mailers using IMbs for address correction are reporting huge problems, which is one reason Dead Tree Edition has referred to full-service IMb discounts as The Postage Discount No Mailer Wants and to IMbs as FUBAR (Failed Unbelievably Bureaucratic Addressing Regulations) codes.
Lundquist noted the problem could be avoided by training letter carriers not to cross out IMbs. But she added, rather prophetically: "However, since there are tens of thousands of mail carriers across the country, the likelihood of this training getting accomplished quickly and thoroughly is not very high."