USPS Will Raise ABE Level in February

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The U.S. Postal Service will begin its second phase of the Automated Barcode Evaluator program on Feb. 1, officials announced last week.

While the first phase of the customer-applied barcode quality examination program, which began in May, was designed to ensure that at least 70 percent of barcoded mail pieces met ABE requirements to get discounted, the second phase raises the acceptance level to 80 percent. Phase two was supposed to begin in July, but the USPS postponed it because the first phase was moving along successfully.

"Based on the results of the last eight months, it is clear that our customers are making every effort to achieve our acceptance goals and ensure that their mailings are meeting our barcode quality standards," said Paulette Kelly, marketing specialist at the USPS. "Scores during the first phase have been very high."

Less than 3 percent of the mailings have fallen below 70 percent, Kelly said, and another 3 percent is scoring between 70 percent and 79 percent. So far, more than 65,000 mailings have been tested since May.

The second phase falls on the heels of a recent test to determine machine variability conducted by the Mail Advertising Service Association, Alexandria, VA, and the USPS. Mail that falls between 70 percent and 79 percent will receive a postage adjustment factor, while mail that falls below 70 percent will be entered into the postal stream at a nonautomation rate. However, there will be an appeal process for any mailing that falls below the 80 percent threshold during phase two.

"Even though there have been significant improvements in the scoring from the initial phases of the ABE testing -- in light of what had gone on in the past -- we felt there was a need for an appeal process," said Barry Brennan, director of postal affairs at MASA.

While details still are undecided, Brennan said the process may involve having mail sent to another site to be tested on a highly-calibrated ABE machine.

Mailers were concerned about ABE earlier this year, particularly in February, when it began its ramp-up testing phase, and during the same time mailers were facing hardware and handling problems. In April, mailers reported problems with ABE machines, training and procedural deficiencies and a general lack of confidence in the equipment.

If there are still concerns about the program, the USPS said mailers using multiline optical carrier readers have the option of looking into the Reader/Verifier Certification program, an alternative to ABE that produces barcode mail with reader/verifier equipment that has been certified by the USPS' engineering group.. Vendors certified to offer this program include Bell & Howell, MailCode, PT Lockhead and Videojet International.

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