USPS promises to fix "unacceptable" flats processing delays
US Postal Service executives resolved to fix problems in their periodicals processing yesterday, as mailers pressed their concerns about significant delays. On-time performance levels for one-to-two day periodicals delivery have slumped to as low as 44% this year as USPS expanded its use of automated flats sequencing systems (FSS) as a way of improving efficiency in processing flats immediately prior to delivery.
FSS machines automatically sequence newspapers and magazines into delivery order for houses along a mail carrier’s route, meaning the mail carrier does not have to sequence the items manually.
Over the past year the Postal Service has accelerated its plans to expand its FSS fleet from 10 machines in five sites to 100 machines in 42 sites, as an extra effort to cut costs from the network. But, after the roll-out was completed this summer, the new machines have been plagued with problems that has seen significant periods of down-time.
Largely because of the FSS issues, the number of delays to Standard Mail flats has increased 16% this year, while delays to Standard Mail overall fell 20%.
Yesterday’s Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting saw USPS chief operating officer Megan Brennan stating frankly that the situation was “unacceptable” and current service performance for periodicals “lousy”.
Part of the problem, Brennan explained, was that the deployment of the machines came while volumes were at their low point during the spring and summer, and USPS did not react quickly enough as volumes surged during the fall.
USPS has now deployed a number of specialist teams – “Tiger Teams” – to investigate problems at the FSS locations, and put in place corrective measures in areas like mail preparation and maintenance procedures.
“It’s about improving the performance of the machines, reducing the down-time for failures,” Brennan said. “When these machines go down, they go down hard.”
Year of FSS stabilisation
The USPS chief operating officer promised an “all out effort” to tackle the problems, adding that 2012 would be the “year of FSS stabilisation”.
“We’ve a long way to go, but some progress has already been made and we are confident that we are going to get the machines stabilised and we are going to get the results that you expect and deserve,” Brennan told major customers at the MTAC meeting.
Mailers expressed concern yesterday that problems seen in the deployment of FSS machines might be seen in other services as the Postal Service moves forward with its plans to dramatically reduce the size of its mail processing network.
USPS is expecting to file proposals with the Postal Regulatory Commission on Monday to revise its service standards in the light of cutting more than 450 mail processing plants currently in the network down to less than 200.
The process will see USPS losing as much as half of its processing machinery, with equipment and extra staff moved into surviving mail processing plants to cope with diverted mailstreams.
Brennan said yesterday that the downsizing of the network would be “aggressive”, but commenting on the concerns of mailers in the light of the FSS problems, she insisted: “We are not going to have any regrettable decisions with respect to the network optimisation.”