GAO demands tighter policing of NCOA

The U.S. Postal Service National Change of Address (NCOA) file was created to improve list hygiene by offering updated addresses for new movers. But in a report issued at the end of July, the General Accounting Office (GAO) claims that list compilers are illegally using the file to create “new movers” lists – and it blames the Postal Service. What’s more, the GAO suggests that Congress consider looking into the matter.

The GAO report complains that the USPS’s NCOA oversight procedures, such as a seeding process to check on file use, are not working “as intended.” The report also charges that the USPS hasn’t conducted the minimum number of licensee audits, hasn’t promptly reaudited licensees that failed initial audits, and hasn’t always suspended or terminated licensees that failed successive audits. “To use NCOA in any way to develop new-movers lists is illegal,” says GAO General Government Division assistant director Sherrill Johnson. “Our disagreement with the USPS is that it doesn’t feel it needs to [police NCOA use] beyond its licensees.”

But in a response to the report, Postmaster General William Henderson wrote that “without an effective way to enforce a prohibition on the creation of new-movers lists, such as sending postal inspectors into mailers’ plants, revising the acknowledgement form to explicitly prohibit [the use of NCOA names on such lists] would be an empty gesture.”

Among the 23 licensed service providers for NCOA, none contacted admits any misuse of the file. “Within our client set, the message has been very clear that the output of NCOA couldn’t be used to create new-movers files or new-movers mailings,” says Dan Minnick, director of postal and industry services for Schaumburg, IL-based service bureau Experian Direct Tech.

Despite NCOA’s coming under fire, the GAO’s Johnson says he doubts the report’s findings or any kind of congressional follow-up will spell the end of NCOA.

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