USPS: ABE Going Better Than Expected

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Apparently, the problem-plagued Automated Barcode Evaluator system, the U.S. Postal Service's quality examination program, isn't a problem anymore.

Michele Denny, manager of business mail acceptance at the USPS, said this week that the program's first phase -- which went into effect as planned on May 4 -- was so successful that postal officials postponed the second phase. The first phase began ensuring that at least 70 percent of barcoded mail pieces met ABE requirements to get a discount. The second phase, which was supposed to begin July 1, would have raised the acceptance level to 80 percent.

"We have postponed the second phase because we are doing very, very well, and we thought we'd keep it at that rate a little longer," said Denny, who heads the ABE program.

Ninety-seven percent of the tested mailing has passed since May, she said, with more than 87 percent reaching scores of 90 and above, 6 1/2 percent at 80-90 and 3 1/2 percent at 70-80. So far, 17,000 mailings have been tested.

"Our thought process is if we hold off on this [second-phase] implementation, we could focus on getting that 6 1/2 percent at 80 and above up into the 90s. Since our mailers are working so hard to do that, we just thought we'd extend it here for a while."

John Ward, vice president of marketing systems at the USPS, said, "This clearly demonstrates that we are on the right track with ABE."

Denny said she now will focus on helping that last 3 percent pass.

"The 3 percent is still there," she said. "The rates they are paying may not be a lot of money, but I just can't understand why we can't get some folks to fix the problem, because in the end we all win."

Denny said she will provide specific lead time before implementing the next phase.

The delay is good news for mailers, who have been anxious about the system for the past few years -- particularly since February, when ABE began its ramp-up testing phase and mailers faced hardware and handling problems. Things also heated up in late April, right before the first phase began. At that time, mailers were reporting problems with ABE machines, training and procedural deficiencies and a general lack of confidence in the equipment.

Barry Brennan, director of postal affairs at Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA, is pleased that the USPS is delaying the second phase.

"It signifies that the USPS is continuing to see improvements in customer-applied barcodes," he said. "It expresses a willingness to work with customers on this."

But, Brennan said, he still isn't convinced about ABE just yet. "We still have some problems with the program," he said. And he is reserving judgment until results come back later this week from a joint USPS-MASA test.

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