"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." – attributed to Benjamin Disraeli
The U.S. Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General (USPS OIG) recently released a report entitled, “Declines in Postal Service Mail Volume Vary Widely Across the U.S.”. It’s unclear how much expense and effort was spent producing the report – a report with a misleading title, flawed data analysis and an ineffectual conclusion.
The title suggests the OIG has studied all mail volumes. In fact, the study only focuses on one small category of mail – Single Piece First Class Mail (FCM). These are the individual pieces of stamped mail given to the USPS by individuals and small businesses. Most of that mail is business related – invoices to customers, notices, bill payments, applications, etc. A small portion are letters and personal correspondence.
What’s important to note is that Single Piece FCM represents only about 14% of all mail volumes (Source: USPS: A Decade of Facts and Figures). The remaining 86% of the mail is composed of transactional documents (bills and statements) from companies to their customers, advertising mail (Standard Mail), media mail, periodicals and parcels. The volumes for transactional documents and Standard Mail have been fairly level the last 3 years, or experienced small growth. Those are the areas that the USPS and the USPS OIG need to focus their efforts.
The data collection methodology for this report is flawed. The report is supposed to show changes in the use of mail by geographic area. As pointed out by the website postalnews.com, the report fails to take into account the USPS facilities that have been closed or expanded in the last several years. That means that mail that used to be processed in one area has now been moved to another. Because of this change where the USPS processes mail, the OIG analysis shows that the volumes in the area where I currently live has declined by 96%, and where I used to live the mail has increased by 128%! That would be shocking, if it was true.
In the report, the OIG added a footnote that states “These areas may have data issues or may have experienced significant changes to mail processing operations.” In reality, most of the country has experienced changes to mail processing operations as part of the USPS Network Optimization initiative. Once these data discrepancies were noticed, the researchers should have stopped and found a better method of measurement.
The stunning conclusion of this flawed study: “More research is likely needed to explain why these trends in mail use exist and how they are evolving.” That’s right, the research concludes what’s really needed is more research.
I couldn’t agree more. Except this time, the study should be conducted by someone who understands the true nature of mail, includes the larger categories of mail, and doesn’t use flawed data.
Focusing on Single Piece FCM is a distraction from the real issues facing the USPS. Business mailers produce the overwhelming majority of mail processed by the USPS. Most of that mail has the Full Service Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMb), which allows for piece-level tracking from point of entry to the delivery unit. That data, with proper analysis, would provide useful information for the USPS and their customers – businesses and individuals – as they deal with the issues of today, and plan for a successful future with mail.