Commentary & Analysis
There's No Magic In Merlin!
By The Postal Curmudgeon The process is painfully slow and frequently flawed by jams,
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 23, 2005
By The Postal Curmudgeon The process is painfully slow and frequently flawed by jams, operator inconsistency, and an appeals process that would have the early Postmaster Ben Franklin spinning in his grave. March 23, 2005 -- Greetings postal fans. Welcome to this month's edition of postal griping and whining. My name is Grumpy, and I depend on the Postal service to be able to pay my mortgage and put food on my table. A sobering thought isn't it? Anyway, this month I though I would "comment" on that technological wonder, MERLIN. For those of you who haven't "met" MERLIN, it's the equivalent of a barcode policeman, stationed at a postal acceptance facility near you. The son of ABE (the postal services first attempt at this technology) this device is supposed to make the acceptance of presorted mail more objective, and well, less subject to the whims of the postal employees. MERLIN is supposed to validate the accuracy and technical aspects of the postnet barcodes, the physical make up of the pieces, and the traying and sortation. The process is painfully slow and frequently flawed by jams, operator inconsistency, and an appeals process that would have the early Postmaster Ben Franklin spinning in his grave. Postal Officials have admitted (off the record) that MERLIN has not generated the huge windfall of additional postage revenue the USPS expected. MERLIN was developed and deployed at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the postal service and ultimately you and I as mailers. Postal Officials have admitted, though off the record, that MERLIN has not generated the huge windfall of additional postage revenue the Postal Service expected. In fact, if you include all the labor, maintenance and the depreciation expense of the 1200+ systems deployed throughout the country, MERLIN has probably lost money for the Postal Service, and at best has broken even. What it has also done is create huge delays at acceptance units and required many mailers to add additional trucks and drivers so they can wait at the acceptance units while mail is processed through MERLIN. It has also created the need for more postal employees to maintain these machines and manage the appeals process. To get a real sense of how it all works, let's look at a potential recovery on 2,500 pieces of mail presented at AADC rates (mailed all around the country) 2500 pieces at 30.9 cents each = $772.50. If the worst case penalty was applied and all discounts were disallowed and the piece was accepted at regular first-class rates (37 cents) the postage would be $925 or $152.50 in additional postage. By the time the labor, benefits (up to 45 minutes for one clerk) and the operating and acquisitions costs are figured in, this is a best a break-even proposition, and would require that every mailing analyzed by MERLIN result in a large penalty, and that just doesn't happen. Only 1 in 7 mailings analyzed by MERLIN resulted in a postage penalty, and that was a whopping $87 dollars. And I'm told that was a banner day for MERLIN! In fact, during an informal yet fairly scientific extended visit to my local acceptance unit, The Curmudgeon noted only 1 in 7 mailings analyzed by MERLIN resulted in a postage penalty, and that was a whopping $87 dollars. That's what the postal service got for its investment in technology and nearly 5 hours of a bulk mail technicians time. And I'm told that was a banner day for MERLIN! So, to my friends at the postal service, perhaps it's time to look under another rock for the windfall? Let's kick MERLIN to the curb, and focus efforts of postal reform and maybe helping the mailing industry try to build more volume! Want to know the postal services spin on MERLIN? Go to www.USPS.com and download publication 430; great reading for bedtime--should put you right to sleep. Food for thought. Until the next time we gripe together.