USPS Delays Merlin Start to Jan. 17

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The U.S. Postal Service has pushed back the date for its next round of Merlin implementation to Jan. 17.

The USPS had said last month that it would begin using its Mail Evaluation Readability and Lookup Instrument, or Merlin, to validate address accuracy Jan. 1 despite concerns from some mailers.

Merlin will analyze barcode digit strings and check for "gross" address accuracy errors. These include ZIP+4 codes of 0000 and 9999 (legitimate addresses with four nines in the ZIP+4 will not count toward "9999" errors) and multiple instances of identical ZIP+4 codes within the Merlin sample.

Merlin will sample all mailings of letters or oversized envelopes that exceed 10,000 pieces and about one in six mailings of less than 10,000 pieces.

The USPS said that it will allow a 1 percent tolerance for some address accuracy errors, but no tolerance for the incorrect use of ZIP+4 codes 0000 or 9999.

The postal service said it changed the date to Jan. 17 because some employees at bulk mail acceptance units that will run the machines may have been out for the holidays and not given a chance to train on the new system.

As a result, "we pushed it a couple of weeks back," said John Sadler, USPS manager of business mail acceptance. "People are typically back by the beginning of January, so this date will give them a chance to become familiar with the software and be ready to go."

Originally, the USPS was going to give mailers until February to use the new system. When the date changed to Jan. 1, mailers were concerned that there would be no grace period to test the new process before the zero-tolerance rule began. They also said they lacked time to communicate with industry and USPS personnel to allow for feedback and adequate training.

Though some are happy for the extra two weeks, others hoped for a 30-day period to learn how to read the new reports and for more extensive training of postal workers and mailers.

Sadler said that the change was not a reaction to mailer requests.

In other postal news:

· On Jan. 10, the postal service begins using Confirm to measure and improve mail-processing performance. Confirm lets business mailers track their mailings through each stage of processing.

"This new process will give us a daily snapshot of what we're doing right. It also will help identify any problem areas or bottlenecks," said Charlie Bravo, USPS senior vice president, intelligent mail and address quality.

· Albert Casey was installed as a postal governor Dec. 26. Casey succeeds Tirso del Junco, a Los Angeles-based Republican, surgeon and entrepreneur. Casey is a Distinguished Executive in Residence at the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and previously served as president/CEO of Resolution Trust Corp., chief executive of AMR Corp. and president of Times Mirror Co.

· Large business customers soon will receive online notification of mail makeup issues as part of the Web-based PostalOne System, the USPS said late last month. Previously, businesses received a paper form that identified mail makeup issues. Pilot testing of the online system ended last month.


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