Free Matter for the Blind or Other Physically Handicapped Persons (Free Matter) is a legally mandated program that allows eligible participants to receive and send mail for free. Mail that qualifies as Free Matter includes large-type (14-point or larger) documents, braille, audio recordings, and talking book players. When Free Matter is mailed domestically, it should be treated as First‑Class Mail for processing and service measurement. U.S. Postal Service regulations also require packaging to remain unsealed to facilitate inspection by Postal Service employees to ensure the mailpieces qualify for postage-free mailing. The Postal Service is reimbursed the cost of delivering Free Matter through congressional appropriations every year.
What We Did
The objective of the audit is to review Postal Service procedures for the acceptance, handling, and delivery of Free Matter. This report responds to a congressional request. For this audit, we interviewed stakeholders who rely on the Free Matter program, observed activity at the Baltimore Processing and Distribution Center and Linthicum Incoming Mail Facility, tracked shipping details for select Free Matter pieces, conducted a mail test to compare Free Matter and First‑Class Mail service, and reviewed the Postal Service’s and OIG’s customer complaint systems.
What We Found
Postal Service procedures for preparing, inspecting, accepting, and handling Free Matter can be improved. We found that the policy for Free Matter preparation was last updated in 2015 and Postal Service did not consistently enforce this policy. The policy’s intent — keeping the mail unsealed for easy inspection and ensuring that it qualifies for postage-free mailing — has not been met because the Postal Service has not implemented procedures or practices for employees carrying out the inspections. We also noted that retail unit employees did not always know the policies and procedures for accepting Free Matter. We also determined that Free Matter was not always accepted or processed as First‑Class Mail and was sometimes misidentified as Parcel Post, which delayed delivery. This occurred because the Postal Service did not provide adequate training or written policy about accepting or processing Free Matter to retail clerks or staff at processing plants, respectively. Further, employees did not recognize some Free Matter mailpieces because they lacked easily identifiable markings.
We recommend management review the need for unsealed preparation and inspection of Free Matter and the subsequent impact on service, incorporate information on proper handling of Free Matter into new employee training curriculum, and evaluate options for increasing employee recognition of Free Matter across the Postal Service network.
Source: USPS OIG