Not So Intelligent Mail

December 3, 2009

In 2003, the U.S. Postal Service initiated the Intelligent Mail program, which would integrate thirty different barcode systems used by commercial mailers into a single system. Ideally, the new barcode system would improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve timeliness of delivery. However, a new report from the Government Accountability Office details numerous problems with the program’s implementation that are all-too-common in government:

  • Delays. The entire program was supposed to have been deployed by January 2009. Now it’s being done in phases, with the second phase completed by the end of November. Key components of the program have been “deferred,” including performance measurement capabilities required by law. Greater automation of the business mail verification process, which was one of the key justifications for the program, has also been left out.
  • Cost Overruns. To incorporate all the components as originally planned, the USPS will need to spend more money on a third phase. However, the GAO says that program managers aren’t sure money will be made available given the USPS’s poor financial condition. The GAO also found that program managers didn’t include all the costs associated with the program, and they therefore “lack an accurate total cost estimate.” 
  • Poor Performance. The first phase is already being plagued by operational problems. As of June 2009, 73 issues had been identified by mailers and the USPS. 
  • Mismanagement. The GAO sensibly recommended that the USPS define the program’s core requirements and use them as a basis for developing reliable cost estimates. But in a prime example of bureaucratic chutzpah, the USPS responded: “Any attempt to define the ‘entire program’ and the cost associated is a waste of funding and resources.” 
  •  Fraud. There is no evidence of fraud yet, but the GAO notes that “a conflict of interest exists because the prime contractor for the development of the program also manages program management office activities.” 

Let’s rid ourselves of these problems and open mail delivery to competition and eventually privatize the USPS. As President Obama himself said in August, “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine…It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”


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