With less than a week to go before a new postage discount debuts, knowledgeable mailers want nothing to do with the new program.

It's officially called the full-service Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb). But as the horror stories and unresolved problems rack up, Dead Tree Edition hereby dubs it the FUBAR (Failed Unbelievably Bureaucratic Addressing Regulations) code. Those of you with military experience know another meaning for FUBAR, and the IM program certainly fits that definition as well.

"Most, if not all, Standard Mailers are steering clear of Full Service ACS [address correction]," Lisa Bowes wrote recently at Intelisent's Postal Affairs Blog. "Full Service ACS may be pretending to be ready for prime time, but the reviews so far are negative."

Many Periodicals mailers are also spooked about the Intelligent Mail program after hearing how it cost Time Inc. more than $90,000 in duplicate address-change charges in a period of just two months. Newsweek, often a leader on postal issues in the magazine industry, spread the word among publishers a few months ago that it was not putting any more resources into Intelligent Mail.

Postal officials in charge of the much-delayed IM program gave their usual everything-is-on schedule presentation at last week's Mailers Technical Advisory Committee meeting. ("This ship is unsinkable! Ooh, look at the pretty iceberg.") And once again they baffled mailers with yet another broken promise. The Association for Postal Commerce (Postcom) summarized the situation this way:

"Despite the Postal Service's repeated assurances that it would not establish error tolerances and consequences for IMb Full-Service mailings until both the USPS and industry have more experience with the complexities of Full-Service and data can be collected and analyzed, the USPS said its verification procedures and consequences will take effect on November 29, 2009 - the date the IMb Full-Service price differential takes effect."

The discounts amount to 0.3 cents per piece for First Class mail and a whopping 0.1 cents per piece for Standard and Periodicals. But the penalty for putting unreadable IM bar codes on mail pieces can easily be several cents per piece. The Postal Service has not standardized the process for determining whether such bar codes are readable, so mail that gets the green light from postal equipment at a printing plant might get flagged as unacceptable when it gets to the Postal Service's sorting machines.

Bowes noted Friday that the IM program's list of "issues" (problems) has grown to 16 pages, more than 100 items, and offered a hilarious translation of a gobbledygook advisory that IM officials issued that day. Her take on one of the mealy-mouthed statements: "A bunch of stuff is broken, and the USPS knows about them, but it is still full steam ahead."

One of the issues for which the Postal Service was not prepared is that procedures need to be changed for letter carriers, writes Monica Lundquist of Window Book, Inc. Letter carriers typically cross out the traditional barcode when they handle a mail piece with an old or bad address, preventing the piece from getting redirected to the same bad address after it goes through processing for address-correction notification.

"If the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) is obliterated by the mail carrier, it will not be able to be scanned . . ., which means that the USPS will not be able to process the address corrections in the Intelligent Mail environment." The solution, she says, is to train letter carriers how to handle poorly addressed pieces that have an IMb, but "the likelihood of this training getting accomplished quickly and thoroughly is not very high."

Previous articles about the Intelligent Mail train wreck:
· USPS: Ve Haf Vays of Making You Use Our Barcode
· Watch out! It's the IMb Express!