The U.S. Postal Service is about the best in the world at providing its core service of mail delivery. In fact, its ability to deliver mail and return undeliverable mail to the sender effectively makes the United States government one of the most efficient in the world, according to a working paper by National Bureau of Economic Research.

A group of economists rated the efficiency of the world's governments with a simple test of their postal systems. The group mailed fake letters to nonexistent businesses in 159 countries and waited a year to see which were sent back to a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The goal was to use a simple, universal service to explore why, other than corruption, developing countries tend to have poorly performing governments. All the letters went to countries that subscribe to the Universal Postal Union, which requires that incorrectly addressed mail be returned within a month.

The United States was one of only four countries to send the undeliverable letters back within 90 days, along with El Salvador, Czech Republic, and Luxembourg. In fact, the U.S. had the fastest return rate at 16 days, although it may have benefited from returning the letters to an address in the United States. It also returned 100 percent of the fake-addressed letters.

The study was not intended to assess the Postal Service, but the results do highlight some of its key strengths, at least compared to foreign posts. Foremost, better classification systems for addresses tended to result in faster returns, the economists noted. The Postal Service uses uniform address standards and its address database is among the most robust in the world.

Again, this was not the study’s intention, but the results seem to support the Universal Postal Union’s (UPU) position that a national addressing system is essential to the economic and social advancement of countries. In its recent white paper, “Addressing the World – An Address for Everyone,” the UPU says that in many developing countries, physical addresses exist only in city centers. Without physical addresses, it is difficult to impossible for public services and businesses to reach their intended targets.

“A quality address infrastructure must be considered as an essential part of a country’s socio-economic infrastructure, not only for improving public services, but also facilitating business, trade and, consequently, national development,” the UPU says.

How important is an addressing infrastructure to government efficiency and business development? What parts of addressing does the Postal Service do particularly well? What could be improved? Share your thoughts.

Comments (283)

  • anon

    Thank you for your comments on this blog from 2012. We ask you to please visit the “Contact Us” page on this website for information on where to file formal complaints with our agency or the Postal Service. To view our most recent work, visit our home page. Thank you again, OIG Blog Moderator

    Feb 12, 2018
  • anon

    I sent the wrong package to someone and she wrote on it, "return to sender" is there someway I can track it?

    Feb 06, 2018
  • anon

    I live in zip code 80221, the rating on google is 1 1/2 star and the service is terrible, mismatched mails and the most important thing is that I am self employed and some of my checks have been returned to the sender. I would like to have a post office where I live with rating 4 to 5 stars also 3 is acceptable but 1 1/2 star is a shame and nobody can do anything since you are Government employees. As important as you are for our society I hope one day somebody will read my lines and take care of this office because it really sucks!!! Thank you very much

    Feb 02, 2018
  • anon

    Aloha, my daughter forgot to put a returning address on her order that she ordered from a website. Just has her first and last name how can one retrieve this package? Greatly appreciate the Help!!!

    Feb 02, 2018
  • anon

    I had a letter delivered to my address correctly but the name on it is someone who does not now, nor to my knowledge ever has (I've been here 30 years) lived here. I marked it Return To Sender/Addressee not at this address and attached it to the outgoing spot on my mailbox on Sunday. My postal carrier did not pick it up either Monday or Tuesday. Do I need to take it to the Post Office myself? Should he be picking it up? I first tried to take it to the box on the corner but it isn't there anymore. Thank you

    Jan 31, 2018
  • anon

    I have just received a return letter indicating " not deliverable as addressed". When I checked the address I found that all components of the address are correct down to the zip code.What is my recourse at this point?

    Jan 30, 2018
  • anon

    My mail was returned to sender. What problem of that? I find i have received any mail this month.

    Jan 29, 2018
  • anon

    My mail got returned because of the stamp, I don’t know why when I bought the stamp for the store

    Jan 23, 2018
  • anon

    Mail is not being delivered to my house and I am losing track of important correspondence. I have complained several times with no result. The mail will never arrive to my home and I will usually end up finding out it was returned to the sender.

    Jan 21, 2018
  • anon

    how do i get my package that was "Delivered, To Original Sender" because of address problem months ago

    Jan 18, 2018
  • anon

    A check was sent out on the 20th and on the 28th the check was returned with this label on it. Why is that?

    Jan 16, 2018
  • anon

    On the bottom of the envelope I sent to someone for Christmas, it said "return to sender", but on the top in yellow magic marker, it said MWA, circled. What does that stand for?

    Jan 16, 2018
  • anon

    I live in zip code 73114, my postman does not deliver my regular mail but I receive junk mail. Most of my important mail like bank cards, irs documents and other important mail is being returned to sender. I have been in the post office to complain more than 4 times. I need something done immediately! I would love to get my mail delivered as addressed!

    Jan 16, 2018
  • anon

    I sent out christmas card out to sadie chabot and she has not get it yet. I sent it on December 22 2017. Can u help me out??? Please and thank you. Charity cameron

    Jan 14, 2018
  • anon

    My boyfriends sister n law is post master and mail is being sent to him she returns it back to sender

    Jan 10, 2018
  • anon

    what Can USPS do if someone put a change of my address to their po-box#,without me knowing.mail being sent to hackers,ID thieves

    Jan 09, 2018
  • anon

    Hello, I had my packag returned to me. I have no idea why? I pay $65 for shipping this box to Ukraine and 3,4 days latter it was returned to me. It never left the USA to go to Ukraine. The address I put was correct and I sent many boxes before to my family in Ukraine, so I don't understand what is the reason for it. Can I get a return of $65 that I pay to ship this package?

    Jan 09, 2018
  • anon

    I was not home when the package arrived but I requested a redelivery. However they said the package was processed to return to the sender. How do I get the sender to send the package back??

    Jan 07, 2018
  • anon

    I mailed a check to a person at an address where he no longer lives. I did not know that he had moved and he had not forwarded his mail to his new address. He asked the person who received the check at his old address for any mail she had received addressed to him, but she would not give it to him. Is there anything I can do about this?

    Jan 05, 2018
  • anon

    Hello general inspector Help in solving the problem of shipping from Germany (Hamburg) to the USA (California). My mother sent a parcel for her grandchildren on December 4th. And the US box arrived on December 13 via New York, then on December 19 in New Jersey, after that the parcel did not move, on January 3 it went back to Germany to the sender via Atlanta indicating that the recipient is not known. How to request a parcel to the destination? The bar code may have been damaged. How to contact the service. These phones do not solve the problem, the information in the phone is the same as on the Internet with a track number. What to do?

    Jan 04, 2018
  • anon

    I paid a shipping fee (via US Postal Service) to a company for a product to try. I was getting the product for trial, but (unknowingly) if I did not let them know I did not want to continue with them that they would keep sending me this item. I have since notified them about my displeasure with their policy and promised to send back the unopened product. I did not use the product as I thought it might be injurious to my health, but they keep sending and billing me for this product.

    Jan 04, 2018
  • anon

    I had a package returned to sender because of an address problem, how would I go about getting my package re-sent?

    Jan 03, 2018
  • anon

    My items are being returned to sender because of address issues. is there any way i can get my items or a refund?

    Jan 02, 2018
  • anon

    I am receiving a package from an online store, they said if I return it I will get a refund. When I receive the package can I just put return to sender and send it back? Or do I have to repackage and ship it myself?

    Dec 26, 2017
  • anon

    Please someone help me! I have a passport package. I track it online. It shows will be here at Dec 18. I keep waiting and waiting. Then it shows no such number. Return to sender. I have a airplane coming and I can not leaving with a passport. I go to the post office (11102 , New York ) the next day. They say my zip code is wrong. And they send me to another post office (Long Island city, 11101) .The lady in the post office ask the tracking number and my phone number and say go home and I will call you. But nobody care enough to call me. I live at 21street. I do not have a car. I walk from these location for 2 hours. I crying for help. But the people in there just say they can do nothing. Worst service. And they send my passport back in two day, and I don't know where is it right now? Why ? Why? Why would they do that to me?

    Dec 23, 2017
  • anon

    The Post Office plays by their own rules, subject to change on a whim. I mailed a parcel to my parents for Christmas and the PO returned it to me..no such number. They have lived there for 40 years. Upon inspection of the parcel, there weren't any incorrect spellings, numbers, nothing. The package was not not smeared or damaged. It was pristine. The mail carrier at the destination I believe just didn't want to deliver it. And USPS wonders why people are opting for UPS, FEDEX, etc.

    Dec 21, 2017
  • anon

    Did your package have a religious stamp? My mail had the same thing happen and the stamp had the manger scene. Maybe some secret protest?

    Dec 21, 2017
  • anon

    please I am expecting a letter since December 4th and up till now I have not be able to get it, it is being held in BARAJAS MADRID SPAIN please can you help on how to get it or send it back to the sender ?

    Dec 21, 2017
  • anon

    I need to respond to a letter I received but the letter I received has no return address. Is there any way at all that I can receive the return address?

    Dec 19, 2017
  • anon

    I Accidentally gave the wrong address to my friend n it was mailed to that address. Will the package be sent back to my friend or is it gone for good?

    Dec 15, 2017
  • anon

    It’s gone for good. Unless the people at that address are good samaritans and return it.

    Jan 03, 2018
  • anon

    My items are being returned to sender because of address issues is there any way i can get my items or a refund?

    Dec 14, 2017
  • anon

    I have 3 letters coming from East Coast to west coast it's been 14 days. Is it safe to assume that something has happened. Hard to believe all 3 are lost at same time.

    Dec 14, 2017
  • anon

    My mail is being returned to sender. I do not know why? I've called the post office several times and was told they would get back to me but have not. This isn't the first time that this has happened. I need some answers.

    Dec 14, 2017
  • anon

    I have been having the same problem for the past three years! I’m constantly complaining to my local post office. I get the same excuses all the time. Yet I still have mail returned to sender for no reason! It’s worse over the holidays. I actually just called and complained again a month ago and just this past week my mail was never received and returned to sender. It’s a nightmare because now I have to verify my address over and over with different companies. I don’t know what to tell you, but I haven’t had any luck in having the problem corrected. Good luck!

    Jan 08, 2018
  • anon

    I have sent my mail to the wrong address. I had put his street and his city instead of where his P.O. box address should of went. How do I fix this?

    Dec 12, 2017
  • anon

    My check was mailed to the wrong address 622 but my address is 633 will it be returned to the post office ?

    Dec 12, 2017
  • anon

    I ordered two things from Amazon. The mail lady delivered it to the wrong house and street. They attempted to get it back, but people are not co-operating. There was a tracking number, and it is a very small town, so they know it was delivered there. Do I have any recourse or what happens next?

    Dec 09, 2017
  • anon

    My item is being returned to the sender, is there anyway it can be re delivered to my apartment?

    Dec 02, 2017
  • anon

    If a personal letter is sent to the wrong address, and the receiver knows the correct address, is the receiver legally responsible for interfering with the U.S. Mail if they discard it?

    Dec 01, 2017
  • anon

    Ordered a package and it was delivered to the wrong house I live in east Peoria Illinois and my package was sent to zion Grove Pennsylvania

    Nov 29, 2017
  • anon

    I accidentally mailed a letter without a stamp how long do it take to come back

    Nov 24, 2017
  • anon

    The US Mail service in Wilton Manors , FL 33311 is very unreliable. I filled out the correct forms and they keep screwing up my mail . Carriers constantly changing and dont seem to be peoperly trained. They return mail to sender for no reason. The US Postal Service needs to look at this facility and find out why residential service is so bad and carriers are not trained.

    Nov 23, 2017
  • anon

    Thanks for your message. The best thing to do would be to file an online complaint with our Hotline. This will allow us to look into the matter for you.

    Nov 24, 2017
  • anon

    this is the first and last time i will intercept a package. i intercepted my package since november 2, and it still says intercepted. when i call and ask where is my package, nobody knows anything, basically its lost, and im upset because that package is worth $900. what are my other options besides filing a claim because i already did that and it was no help.

    Nov 19, 2017
  • anon

    ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS YOU HAVE BEEN REQUESTED TO RETURN THE MONEY ORDER YOU PREVIOUSLY RECEIVED HOWEVER,WE HAVE YET TO HEAR FROM YOU.PLEASE RESPOND.THANK YOU

    Nov 17, 2017
  • anon

    Hi so I sent a envelope to someone in canada with 4 stamps is that enough? and i put one stamp under the one in the top right corner is that ok? and I get my envelope sent back how long will it take?

    Nov 16, 2017
  • anon

    Why, after I mark something, "Return to Sender," is it then being redelivered to my home, two days later? This same thing is happening at my place of employment. It's annoying. If it says, "Return to Sender," then do that & stop wasting people's time!

    Nov 15, 2017
  • anon

    I work at a school with time sensitive letters going to the students' homes. I am getting mail returned to me because the parent/guardian's last name is different from the student's. This smells like bias because the address is correct and the postal carrier isn't giving the person who lives at that address a chance to make the determination if that person lives at the address or not. Some of my students live in foster homes so the student and the adult in the home aren't going to have the same last name. Other students don't have the same last name as the parent they are living with so why the discrimination?

    Nov 14, 2017
  • anon

    I do not work for the postal service, but generally speaking, all sensitive mail with a minor's name should be addressed by listing the minor name AND the parent or care/of name. Minors do not typically receive a lot of mail, and the postal carrier has no way of knowing what minors or other persons with a different last name live at the house! Accepted protocol is to address mail to a minor as follows: JOHN DOE (Minor) C/O MARY SMITH (Guardian) 123 Main ST Anywhere, USA 012345 The c/o stands for "care of" and is also the acceptable way to address a mail / package going to an address other than the primary residence of someone (E.g., someone is staying for a month at a friend's house or receiving a package on vacation).

    Feb 12, 2018

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