US Stamps

2016 certified mail cover serves as artifact of IBM-sponsored mail transit time study

Oct 27, 2017, 11 AM
This certified mail cover, sent in September 2016, is one of countless others recorded by volunteers in an IBM-sponsored program that measures mail delivery efficiency for the United States Postal Service.

By Charles Snee

When it comes to their mail, most people want it yesterday. Which is another way of saying speed of delivery matters.

The United States Postal Service, keenly aware of this, regularly measures how quickly first-class letters and other types of mail move from origin to destination.

Results, which the USPS terms “Service Performance Results,” are reported quarterly.

Connect with Linn’s Stamp News: 

    Sign up for our newsletter
    Like us on Facebook
    Follow us on Twitter

For example, the report detailing performance for single-piece, first-class mail for the third quarter of fiscal 2017 (ended June 30) shows that 95.6 percent of letters mailed in the Northern Virginia section of the Capital Metro Area were delivered within two days.

While perusing these results, I was intrigued by the overview given at the top of the webpage: “Since 1990, U.S. Postal Service has contracted with a third party vendor to measure First-Class Mail service performance independently and objectively via the External First-Class Mail Measurement System (EXFC). EXFC is an external sampling system measuring the time it takes from deposit of mail into a collection box or lobby chute until its delivery to a home or business.”

My curiosity piqued, I did a bit of online searching and learned the “third party vendor” is IBM.

“IBM is currently under contract with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to conduct independent studies using participant panels, to measure how the USPS performs from the customer’s point of view,” it says on the website, which explains how volunteers can sign up to participate in what IBM calls the “Transit-Time Measurement System.”

IBM maintains and operates the TTMS for the Postal Service.

Volunteers must not discuss their participation in the TTMS with any USPS employees.

“In order for the data we provide to the USPS to remain free from any bias, we must ensure that your mail is treated in the same manner as all other USPS customers,” IBM says.

Participants receive “mail that IBM specifically creates and sends … for the purpose of testing how quickly and accurately these mailpieces arrive at their destination.”

Results are reported back to IBM via phone or the internet.

Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders confirmed for Linn’s that TTMS data is the source of the on-time delivery percentages presented in the Postal Service’s Service Performance Results.

As you might imagine, the vast majority of TTMS-generated mail is thrown away after delivery has been logged with IBM.

Sometimes, though, a TTMS mailpiece escapes destruction to live on as postal history.

Such is the case with the certified mail cover illustrated here, which came to me from a collector friend.

All identifying features, including addresses, have been photographically obscured to protect the anonymity of both the sender and the recipient.

Postmarked Sept. 9, 2016, in Atlanta, Ga., the letter was sent to the recipient’s mailing address with “return receipt requested,” as indicated by the red handstamp at lower right.

A second red handstamp, at left, is docketed “9-12-16” to show when the letter was received at the recipient’s post office.

At the time of mailing, first-class postage was 47¢, certified mail cost $3.30, and $2.70 paid for the return receipt, for a total of $6.47.

A colorful trio of stamps combined to pay the postage and fees: a 2012 $5 Waves of Color (Scott 4719), a 2015 $1 Patriotic Waves (4953), and a 2014 nondenominated Flag and Fireworks forever stamp (4869).