'It's a technology problem'

More than $1 billion per year in import fees is not being collected on packages

mailed to the United States from overseas via the U.S. Postal Service, according

to Rep. Anne Northrup (R-Ky.).

Postal Service officials conceded that some customs fees are probably not

being collected but said Northrup's $1 billion figure is too high by a factor

of four.

"It's a technology problem," Northrup said Tuesday. The Postal Service lacks

the automated technology needed to efficiently assess and collect duties

on the millions of packages mailed each year to addresses in the United

States from other countries, she said.

Northrup also blamed the U.S. Customs Service for failing to appraise, classify

and collect duties and fees on most Postal Service packages. She said customs

fees are collected on only 6 percent of the Postal Service's incoming packages

that owe duties.

By contrast, fees are assessed on 90 percent of the incoming packages handled

by private carriers such as UPS and Federal Express, Northrup said. UPS

is one of the largest employers in Northrup's Louisville-area district.

Failure to collect customs duties on Postal Service mail gives the Postal

Service an unfair advantage in competition with private companies, she said.

U.S. Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly agreed that Postal Service packages

do not get the same scrutiny as those of private carriers. But Customs cannot

require the Postal Service to use electronic manifests, he said.

And the Postal Service can't require foreign mail services to use electronic

manifests, said Postal Service spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp.

The electronic manifests used by UPS enable Customs inspectors to process

duties and fees while the plane is still airborne, UPS spokesman Tad Segal

said. When Postal Service mail arrives, Customs inspectors have about a

second to evaluate each package as it passes by on a conveyor belt, Kelly

said.

Furthermore, Kreienkamp said, Northrup is unfairly comparing the commercial

carriers' business-to-business shipments of items such as equipment parts

with the Postal Service's packages that generally contain personal items,

such as holiday gifts.

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