During our Integrity of the U.S. Postal Service’s Social Media Presence audit, we found indications of availability issues associated with the National Change of Address (NCOA) database and its related applications. We identified several social media complaints and reports in national news concerning issues submitting and processing change of address requests. Although these issues were outside the scope of the audit, they could potentially affect millions of customers and, therefore, require immediate attention. The purpose of this alert is to bring this issue to management’s attention and make recommendations for corrective action.
The Postal Service processes, on average, 118,152 address changes per day. The NCOA is the database of record that stores change of address information for Postal Service customers. The NCOA system helps reduce undeliverable-as-addressed mail by correcting addresses prior to mailing. Business mailers process their mailing lists using NCOALink® and Postal Service customers can submit and request online address changes through the MoversGuide online application.
Issues Submitting and Processing Change of Address Requests
We identified four Twitter accounts citing issues with the ability to submit an address change request using the MoversGuide online (MGO) application between September 20-30, 2020. In addition, we identified a Twitter account that shared a news article claiming the Postal Service had stopped fully updating the NCOA system for 20 days during August 2020. According to the article, the Postal Service acknowledged that it had not registered at least 1.8 million new changes of address in the NCOA database. The Postal Service spokesperson also stated that management fixed the issue and restored the missing data on September 14, 2020. The Twitter complaints and the news article prompted us to review the availability of these applications because an outage could potentially affect millions of customers.
To evaluate claims related to submitting and processing change of address requests, we reviewed the availability statistics for the MoversGuide online application using the Postal Service’s [redacted] network performance monitoring tool and NCOA and NCOALink change requests in [redacted].
We found that availability issues existed with the MoversGuide application during August, September, and October 2020, dropping to as low as 53 percent on October 29, 2020. This indicates a possible application or supporting infrastructure failure which could cause degraded service and service level agreement (SLA) violations for the MoversGuide application. For example, customers may experience application connectivity or timeout issues when accessing the MoversGuide application such as those cited by customers in the identified Twitter accounts. According to the MoversGuide SLA, this application should be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
[Redacted] showed the Postal Service executed 10 non-maintenance window change requests for the NCOA database and NCOALink between August 3 and October 28, 2020, that totaled 53 hours of actual duration to complete.
The Postal Service provided an after-action report to show that management had resolved NCOALink issues. The report appeared to identify and resolve the root cause of the NCOALink availability issue on September 14, 2020. However, the issues that required non-maintenance window changes after September 14, 2020 could result in outages that affect the availability of NCOALink.
The Postal Service did not agree that there were issues related to MoversGuide availability, stating that [redacted] is the tool used to monitor the availability of external facing applications, not [redacted]. They provided us an after-action report and screenshots of the [redacted] tool but the documentation did not sufficiently demonstrate that [redacted] was used to monitor the availability of MoversGuide. (e.g., monitoring start date, metrics it uses or tracks, etc.). Additionally, the availability issues occurred August through October 2020; however, the Enterprise Information Repository (EIR) showed [redacted] was in development status from December 8 through December 29, 2020. According to Postal Service policy, a system in development status should not be used to assess data for a production application. Finally, review of the after-action report for MoversGuide did not address the availability issues cited in the Twitter accounts.
The unavailability of applications required to process address changes may impact timely and accurate delivery of critical mail such as medical prescriptions and other parcels, bank documents, and voter registration information. This reflects poorly on the Postal Service brand and could impact customer loyalty.
We determined there were intermittent issues with the ability to submit and process address changes from August through October 2020. We intend to review the Postal Service’s change of address process and systems in future audit work.