USPS Probes Move Update Compliance

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The U.S. Postal Service has organized several review teams that are visiting more than 500 mailers across the country to determine how and if they are complying with the Move Update program.

Move Update, which was implemented in July 1997, is designed to reduce the volume and cost of Undeliverable As Addressed mail. First-Class mailers must use the system to update their addresses every six months with the National Change of Address program, Address Change Service or Fast Forward to receive postal automation discounts. These systems vary in cost. For example, NCOA users can pay anywhere from 50 cents per thousand to $3 per thousand based on their mail volume.

Six representative mailers in each of the USPS' 85 districts were randomly selected for the visits. Mike Murphy, manager of address management at the USPS, said the compliance program was implemented for two reasons:

* To determine the impact of Move Update on the mailing community, especially since various mailers have said that not everyone is complying with the rules.

* Because the USPS realized that even though the program was gaining new users every day, it was experiencing little to no reduction in its undeliverable mail.

Mailing insiders have said the reason a large amount of undeliverable mail still exists is because mailers aren't using Move Update services to update their files -- though they claim they are -- and, therefore, are receiving discounts but not paying the postal service for use of the address-matching systems.

"They can say, 'Yes, we are complying with the postal service' and getting the discounts, but how does anybody know that they are actually updating their files?" asked Buddy Spiegel, director of address products at Anchor Computer, one of the 24 USPS licensees of NCOA. "We are not saying that this is the case, necessarily, and we are not making any accusations about this; but this could be happening."

Murphy said the audits are in the beginning stages and, as a result, he doesn't know if any companies are guilty. If they are, "then what they are doing is fraud and this is what the compliance review teams are trying to find out."

Others say the problems stem from the mailers and also the USPS. While mailers may not be using the system correctly or at all, the USPS still should put clearer definitions on what mailers need to do when using the system.

"The postal service has been pretty loose about how they have enforced the [Move Update] system, and, in some ways, they haven't really enforced it at all," said one mailer who asked not to be identified.

Other mailers aren't experiencing problems with Move Update and are finding that their mail is being delivered to the correct updated addresses, but have heard that the USPS has not solved its undeliverable mail problems and they are concerned.

"From my experience, Move Update has worked fine and we really haven't experienced any trouble with our undeliverables," said Chuck Fattore, vice president at First Chicago Bank, Chicago, who uses the NCOA system. "What I don't understand is why the postal service's overall volume of undeliverables has not gone down as much as the USPS had expected by now."

Murphy said his group is committed to determining the problems.

"Initially, we will check on several hundred companies to get an idea of what the situation is, and then we will decide -- along with the Bulk Mail Acceptance Group at headquarters -- how we want to proceed," he said. "We will decide if we want to do a more thorough review or if we want to get some postal inspectors involved and/or the revenue protection arm if we feel there is a major noncompliance problem and it becomes a revenue issue."

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