Postal Updates

Stop Act deadline looms for U.S. Postal Service

Oct 19, 2020, 1 PM
President Trump signed the Stop Act into law in 2018. It is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister

The Stop Act was supposed to be a quick solution to a major drug scandal.

It won high praise from President Donald Trump as a way to stop China from using the United States Postal Service to flood the United States with illicit opioids.

It was to go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, forcing foreign postal services to file electronic notices of what items they would be mailing into the United States.

Two years after President Trump signed the Stop Act into law, it seems clear that neither the U.S. Postal Service nor the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency are going to be able to enforce the law by its Jan. 1 deadline.

That’s the gist of a Sept. 30 white paper issued by the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, which examined the consequences of the 2018 law that the White House promised would “help identify suspicious shipments and stop deadly fentanyl from entering from China and Mexico.”

In the white paper, the Postal Service’s inspector general bluntly warned “that the Postal Service will not be able to fully meet the Stop Act requirement to provide Advanced Electronic Data (AED) on all incoming packages” as of the deadline.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who authored the law, is furious over the looming problem.

“The mandate of the Stop Act is clear, the Postal Service must refuse any package without AED starting at 12:01 AM on January 1, 2021,” he told Linn’s in an e-mail.

“The Stop Act was passed in 2018, which gave the Postal Service — and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] — two years to prepare for this deadline,” Portman said.

“The amount of work identified by the OIG to achieve 100 percent compliance by the Postal Service is unacceptable and I certainly plan to find out why that is the case.”

What that probably means is that Portman, who serves as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, could hold hearings on why the USPS and the Customs and Border Protection agency have been slow to prepare for the long-expected crackdown on mailed illicit drugs.

The Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank which monitors the Postal Service’s actions, has called for the agency to simply refuse to deliver “all packages” that arrive in the United States with without first filing the required electronic alert as to what the package contains.

It’s hardly a new, or novel, strategy, the institute noted in an Oct. 14 news release.

Private carriers, such as UPS and FedEx, have been required to provide advance notices on their U.S.-bound shipments since 2002, the institute noted.

And the technology has been “widely used since the 1990s,” the institute added.

The inspector general’s white paper placed a lot of the blame for the impasse on foreign posts, saying the requirement presents “a major hurdle” for many.

The white paper also blamed the Customs and Border Protection agency for failing to issue regulations for the new requirement. That was to have been done by October 2019, according to Paul Steidler, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute.

“This bureaucratic snafu is quite disappointing,” Steidler said.

The IG’s white paper took note of the high volume of packages from China, saying it accounts for “nearly there-quarters of all inbound packages but had a relatively high compliance rate” during the first half of fiscal year 2020.

As of March, the paper said 135 countries and territories were not able to send the Advanced Electronic Data notices to the U.S. Postal Service.

The paper predicted that the agency would be “substantially challenged” to meet the Stop Act’s Jan. 1 deadline.

It noted that compliance is threatened by both the other posts’ “technical limitations but also by uncertainty regarding the law’s implementation.”

Rules are needed to set “the minimum requirements for the completeness and accuracy of the data, the penalties for non-compliance and details regarding country-specific waivers,” the paper said.

The paper also suggested that the Postal Service could help speed compliance by charging higher postage for packages that have not filed the Advanced Electronic Data notices.

The Customs and Border Protection agency did not respond to Linn’s e-mail request for comment.

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