International mail is primarily processed through the U.S. Postal Service’s International Service Centers (ISC). ISC operations focus on the timely and secure movement of international mail and packages. ISC staff use equipment to perform processing scans for events such as mail arrival and departure and customs clearance. Scan data is recorded in the Product Tracking and Reporting (PTR) system and converted to message scripts for customers tracking packages on USPS.com.
What We Did
Our objective was to assess the Postal Service’s international mail operations and performance data. We reviewed key international operations and data, including analyzing 543 packages judgmentally selected at ISCs from May-December 2021.
Our review of international mail operations and performance data found scanning deficiencies, processing delays, and confusing messages. Package data showed missing, delayed, simultaneous, and non-sequential scans. For example, [redacted] of the packages we sampled were missing an ISC departure scan and we found notable processing delays at the ISCs, with some packages [redacted].
ISC management acknowledged the scanning issues and processing delays for outbound and inbound packages and attributed them to factors including staff not performing scans or workload pressures (e.g., ISCs processing additional volume for other plants). While the extent of these factors varied across the ISC network, the overall scanning and processing issues highlighted concerns with management’s ability to effectively monitor scan performance and reduce delays.
We also found instances of confusing and vague USPS.com messages displayed to customers regarding ISC-related processing events. For example, customers received “processed through” messages although their packages remained for processing at the ISC. These issues were caused by outdated business rules for transmitting data between PTR and USPS.com for international packages.