USPS' ABE System Begins as Scheduled

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The U.S. Postal Service launched its Automated Barcode Evaluator program this week and, so far, is reporting that the equipment is running properly.

"It's been extremely quiet. We have an 800 number, and we haven't had any calls coming in. Any district that I talked to today is very quiet. Things are going very smoothly," said Paulette Kelly, marketing specialist with the USPS. However, she added, "I think it's just too early to tell."

ABE went into effect as planned May 4, which means that 70 percent of barcoded mail pieces must meet ABE requirements to qualify for discounts. For many mailers, it's business as usual: The system has been in a ramp-up phase since Feb. 1, so mailers who were testing the system should not have experienced any changes.

For example, Don Johnson, president of American Mail Service Inc., Omaha, NE, did not use the ABE machine on any mail May 4, but said, "we have been running better than 90 percent [on acceptance] since last July, and we haven't received any feedback as of yet -- so no news is supposedly good news."

The postal service has placed 260 ABE machines at the larger business mail entry units and detached mail units across the country. If there is a machine at a site where a company delivers its mail, that mail is subjected to ABE. If no machine is present, the company still gets discounts.

Although the postal service said it ABE-tests randomly, studies show it hopes that 84 percent of barcoded mail will go through the ABE system -- 69 percent at USPS facilities and 15 percent in-house. The USPS said it will take a look at what's happening at the 70 percent rule before raising the level -- originally, barcode-acceptance requirements were to be raised to 80 percent by July 1 and 90 percent by Sept. 1. But, Kelly said, "by no means have we made any decision on the [80 or 90 percent] rule, and we won't until we know how the system is going."

This news comes despite continual reports from mailers of problems with machines, training and procedural deficiencies and a general lack of confidence that the equipment consistently performs as reported. Mailing services companies are worried that the problems may mean that their customers will fail to qualify for automated discounts and will have to pay additional postage because of equipment deficiencies.

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