Undeliverable As Addressed (UAA) mail continues to be a problem for the USPS. At least that is the position both the USPS, and to a certain degree, the mailing industry continues to take. It is a well-established assumption that the only way for a mailpiece to arrive in a timely and predictable manner is with a complete, correct, and current address.

In 2006, Postmaster General Jack Potter challenged the mailing industry to reduce UAA mail by 50% by 2010. At the time, there was nearly 10 billion pieces of UAA mail annually forwarded, returned, or disposed at a cost of nearly $2 billion. While the PMG wasn't specific about a 50% reduction in volume or cost, it was pretty clear at the time that both needed to be reduced.

The Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC) formed several workgroups focused on address quality and produced some very detailed reports. One in particular is the Address Quality Methodology report from workgroup 97, which contains numerous suggestions and best practices for reducing UAA and improving overall address quality. While the report is five years old, it still contains many relevant suggestions for collecting, storing, and updating address data. The report can be obtained by visiting http://ribbs.usps.gov and selecting the MTAC tab on the left.

As we begin 2013, now equipped with a new Intelligent Mail barcode, the question still remains: did we reduce UAA by 50% since 2006? That is the question that the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) would like to know, as well as the mailing industry. The OIG began a study in November 2012 looking into ways in which the USPS and the industry can further reduce UAA cost. This study (13YG008HR000) is just beginning and there appears to already be a lot of interest in not only obtaining an updated scorecard on UAA, but also what new technologies exist today that can help reduce UAA cost and volume.

According to the USPS National Customer Support Center (NCSC), UAA volume overall has indeed declined since 2006. In 2010, the USPS reported there was approximately 6.9 billion pieces of total UAA (disposed, forwarded, and returned) mail at a combined cost of $1.4 billion annually. The problem is that overall mail volume has also declined. Thus, the question still remains did we reduce the volume by 50% through investments in address quality or were the reductions simply attributed to the overall volume declines in First-Class and Standard mail?

To perhaps better answer that question, we can take a closer look at where substantial declines in UAA have occurred. In 2004 when the last comprehensive UAA study was done, just over 6 billion pieces of UAA mail were disposed by the USPS at a cost of 4.4 cents per piece for a total of $269 million. Due to expanded USPS Move Update requirements and the continued investment of data quality solutions from the industry, we were able to reduce the number of disposed UAA pieces down to fewer than 4 billion and indications are that the decline is continuing. Thus, we can certainly claim victory here in that there are 2 billion fewer pieces of mail that are being disposed of by the USPS - the true definition of "junk mail".

But what about the other types of UAA mail? Unfortunately, it appears that declines in forwarded mail have been slower and there is actually a slight increase in the number of returned mail pieces. The answer to this is likely still due to lack of education in address quality, more timely access to address quality data, and leveraging software return codes. The later item is something that has been addressed in this column in the past, but bears repeating. CASS certified software solutions provide valuable clues to address defects and mailers should understand how to leverage these codes to apply additional address quality methodologies for the reduction of UAA mail.

As the OIG continues to work on their UAA study, it should also be noted that the USPS and the mailing industry are continuing their pursuit of address quality. The next CASS cycle is being planned for implementation in June 2014. CASS, also known as the Coding Accuracy Support System, is a test whereby commercial software products process a list of 150,000 addresses and must meet a minimum assignment threshold in order to be considered CASS certified. The last CASS cycle was Cycle N, which took place on August 1, 2011. Thus, it is time for the industry, the USPS, and now the OIG to come together in an effort to continue to reduce UAA mail and present an updated scorecard on our progress.