'It's a technology problem'
- By William Matthews
- Mar 14, 2000
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
"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
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.