MERLIN Moratorium for Flats Stays in Effect

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A moratorium for the postage adjustment phase for MERLIN barcode readability tests on flats remains in effect, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

The agency said this week that no restart date has been determined, but that once the implementation date is set a 60-day grace period will commence.

MERLIN, or Mail Evaluation Readability and Lookup Instrument, is a USPS program that verifies acceptance requirements, including barcode readability. If mailings fall short of their required 90 percent readability rate, postal acceptance personnel can assess extra postage for mailings. The USPS said the program's main goal is to minimize the amount of improperly prepared mail in distribution.

Michele Denny, USPS manager of channel management, said last month that while the postal service resumed the program Feb. 15 for most mail, the agency instituted a 30-day delay for the postage adjustment phase for MERLIN barcode readability tests on flats and catalogs because of quality issues. The decision was welcomed by printers and other flat-sized mailers, who had complained that process improvements were needed on the MERLIN machines before they could be used to determine barcode eligibility.

The moratorium was to have ended March 8, but the USPS and mailers are still working on quality issues.

Also last month, an official Mailers Technical Advisory Committee joint USPS/Industry Mail Preparation Quality Work Group was formed to address the quality issues surrounding Merlin. The group held its first meeting Feb. 20, and 20 recommendations was compiled.

The recommendations fall into three categories -- training and communication, standard operating procedures, and equipment - and include:

• Reviewing and expanding training to include a comprehensive users guide, supplemental training and core competencies for business mail entry clerks and mail piece design analysts and to review training for maintenance

• Reviewing the MERLIN communications plan -- including identifying a contact point for MERLIN issues and communicating best practices on the USPS' Web site -- and expanding those issues

• Conducting correlation tests on letters and flats.

After a smaller USPS/industry work group meets March 18 to discuss specific technical MERLIN issues, the main work group will reconvene April 4 to discuss the planned actions.

"We are looking at all the issues," said Bob O'Brien, vice president of postal and distribution policy at Time Customer Service and industry co-chair for the work group. "After the April 4 meeting, we'll have a much better idea of where we're at."

Once a plan has been finalized, the USPS will communicate it to postal personnel and mailers.

"I am optimistic that the postal service and industry working together will move this project forward to a successful completion," Denny said. "We are in this together, and we are working on the issues."

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