USPS Gears Up for Fall Mail Season

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The U.S. Postal Service has embarked on a planning program this year to prepare for the surge in volume that always takes place during the fall mailing season.

Specifically, the program was designed to avoid a repeat of last fall's problems, in which mailers said Standard-A catalog and advertiser mail was delayed at bulk-mail centers and sectional facilities. While the USPS regularly prepares for the fall mailing season with similar programs, this is the first time it will have its plans ready early: all activities are scheduled to be completed by July 17.

Even though planning efforts will include First Class, Standard B, Priority Mail and Periodicals, the major effort will be to manage the movement of Standard-A mail. Nick Barranca, vice president of operations at the USPS, mentioned steps it is taking to rectify these problems at last month's Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting in Washington. Many of these steps came from an earlier meeting with representatives from 25 USPS processing and distribution plants, 10 bulk-mail center managers and several major mailers, including Quebecor Inc. and R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Highlights include:

* Adding structure around the plans that each USPS center puts together to let the USPS know if it needs additional equipment, staffing or transportation. Planning meetings have been held, and many of the choke points where the USPS may have to apply additional resources or acquire auxiliary space already have been established.

* For the first time, the USPS is making a list of in-home delivery guidelines based on mailers' entry points. The guidelines will let mailers know that if "they are going to enter carrier-route Standard-A letters at a destination bulk-mail center, they should enter them four to five days prior to when they expect in-home delivery." The guidelines are under final review and will be available to mailers shortly.

* Staff will be added to the Business Services Network, a program that focuses on preventing and fixing large customers' mailing problems. This network will continue to make weekly contact with its 212 national account customers to identify problems early.

"Our ultimate objective is to do more and more of these programs on an ongoing basis and focus more on joint planning with our customers, which I believe is the key to being successful in Standard A," he said.

Barry Brennan, director of postal affairs at the Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA, said the postal service is on the right track.

"Generally speaking, we are encouraged by what Barranca presented and the outline that he put down. He has incorporated some input that he received from the prior MTAC meeting in March and built that input into the plan," Brennan said.

It is important that the USPS is planning early, he said, and talking to a variety of customers, including mail owners, service providers and mail vendors.

"Last year, one of the frustrations the USPS had is that they were talking to a lot of customers and there wasn't any apparent problem in delivery with the customers they were talking to," he said. "This year, they are talking to an additional subset of customers to sample where in the system they might have some potential problems or develop delays."

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