Thursday, January 28, 2010

Intelligent Snail: USPS Finally Addressing Crossed-Out Barcodes

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."

17 comments:

MailmanNeal said...

If we don't cross out the bar code, how do we get CFS to stop returning the same piece of mail over and over again. If a letter has a forwarding address written on the letter and there is still a barcode present, the plant will send it to the barcode address everytime. Loop mail has been the only successful alternative to CFS miscues but if we start sending all our IMb mail to circumvent the automation, the bar code still will not be read. Still confused..

Anonymous said...

this is the dumbest thing the post office has ever done. this mail will keep going around and around for weeks until some does indeed cross out the barcode!

Anonymous said...

No matter what we do, they still have a way of blaming this on us mail carriers. They are delaying the mail, we are just trying to get it where it goes. What idiot came up with that name anyway "Intelligent mail".,just another example of the post office saying the computer knows better than us, we all know how DOIS works.

Anonymous said...

the "Do not obliterate" directive has been out without giving any alternate routing instructions...any postal worker can tell you that loop mail is legion & almost impossible to get correctly routed. What if IMb mail is incorrectly addressed, but the correction is not in the system?

Anonymous said...

Intelligent barcoded flats and letters arrive daily at our Washington state plant instead of going to Western Australia, even with their four digit postal code.

Anonymous said...

About a month ago I had a letter show up 8 days in a row. Every time it showed up I threw it into the appropriate throwback spot, only to see it show up again the next day. And there was a Saturday off in there, so it likely showed up 9 days in a row. I throw stuff back and see it come back all the time. And guess what? I couldn't care less. :)

Anonymous said...

"Do Not Obliterate" - The Video

Anonymous said...

The dead tree is "DEAD" between the ears!!!

Anonymous said...

Why would the Census Bureau be tracking mail? Privacy issue here???

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember "LOOP" Mail? This is the cause. Mail with bad addresses is sent back to the plant. Even though the tray is labeled "Manual" some management says 'run it through the DBCS anyway'. End result - The DBCS eads the bad address and re-send the letter back to the same carrier and the process begins anew. The mail is "looped" around in the system until someone finally pulls it out of the automated mailstream!

John said...

Sorry, If I don't obliterate the bar code it likely will come back to me.
The intelligent bar code is stupid.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous, the USPS always blames the letter carrier and even allows this view to be given out to business mailers when in reality it is a mail processing problem within the others crafts of the postal service including most importantly supervisors who sit on their thumbs and do nothing to correct the problem while at the same time pointing a finger at a craft employee, that is if they take the time to remove it from their pockets while standing around and doing nothing to get mail delivered to whom it was addressed. Grady Anchorage, AK

Anonymous said...

"Lundquist described what typically happens when a letter carrier ends up with undeliverable mail:"

Lundquist's answer only speaks to mail where the addressee has moved. What about mail with incorrect barcodes (ie 24055 instead of 42055)? What about mail that is just plain missent?

His answer, albeit correct, only applies to a small percentage of LOOP mail.

Anonymous said...

All of this ignores the fact that I the Intelligent Mail bar code has a processing problem. DBCS's can sometimes read a false postnet bar code from a split portion of the IM bar code, so a percentage of them are ALWAYS misdelivered. I've tried to point this out to management, but it's been a year or so since the first time and it hasn't been fixed yet. The processing software for this is BAD!

PostalPilotFish said...

I hope someone will read this comment. One sortation problem with IMB has to do with the software engines installed on barcode readers in every letter sorting machine nationwide. There are several software driven OCR (optical character reader) engines installed on the Wide Field of View (WFOV) camera computer assemblies. These engines break down any barcodes, interpret the results, then uses an arbitration program to choose the best result in order to sort the mailpiece to the proper destination.

When an IMB mailpiece is scanned by the WFOV, the OCR engines (OMNI 1&2)responsible for interpreting the IMB barcode work properly. The OCR engine responsible for interpreting a Postnet Barcode also interprets the IMB barcode, but does so incorrectly. The postnet OCR engine truncates the IMB horizontally along the entire barcode, then reads the upper portion of the IMB as if it were a normal postnet barcode. As long as the upper structure of the IMB barcode supports a valid 5, 9, or 11 digit zip code, then that result will also be sent to the arbitration program. The problem is the arbitration program will pick the postnet result some of the time, even if the information provided by the IMB OCR engines is valid.

The WFOV software allows for a technician to monitor what each OCR engine computes as the proper interpretation for a given barcode, and also you can visually see the barcode outlined on the scanned image for each engine. When the postnet OCR engine named LMBC looks at the barcode, the outline truncates the IMB horizontally down the entire length of the barcode, outlining the upper portion of the barcode. This result is what the arbitration engine chooses as the best result for that mailpiece.

The postnet OCR engine is named LMBC, but the real problem lies with the arbitration engine software provided by Lockheed Martin. Currently, there is no way for a technician to change which OCR engine should take precedence in the arbitration decision hierarchy. I have witnessed this problem first hand and reported this problem to my area office and MTSC, but to my knowledge no action has been taken to correct this situation.

China markers to mark out barcodes have to be standard equipment for clerks and carriers alike when mail destined for FL or CA ends in up in the Midwest, again and again and again........

John Dale said...

It seems like common sense that obscuring barcodes would screw up a system which was designed to improve delivery. The system may have problems and may not be working properly but covering up barcodes certainly cannot be the answer.

David Winthorpe said...

This seems like something of a sweeping statement - "USPS always blames the letter carrier and even allows this view to be given out to business mailers when in reality it is a mail processing problem within the others crafts of the postal service including most importantly supervisors who sit on their thumbs and do nothing to correct the problem while at the same time pointing a finger at a craft employee".

Is this really written from the "Anonymous" writers personal experience or is this simply an all too common case of stereotyping?