CASS Certification Explained Over Dinner

Last night I was having dinner with my wife’s friends and they asked what I did for a living. Normally I just brush those requests off and say ‘Internet Security’ or ‘Contact Validation’ and change the subject. But last night I said, “Service Objects validates contacts – we validate customers names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for our clients.” I thought that was that; but the discussion lingered With questions like: How is that done? Can anyone validate addresses? Do you have an agreement with the Post Office? It was rather a lively discussion so I thought I’d rehash the highlights here.

In the United States the Postal Service promotes good address hygiene through its Coding Accuracy Support Systems (CASS) initiative. It is in the best interest of the postal service to receive mail with valid, genuine, and accurate addresses. The less incorrectly addressed mail they get, the more efficient they become and the less waste for mailers; everybody wins. The CASS certification program is open to mailers, service bureaus, and software vendors that have lots of addresses and want to get discounts on their mailings. To receive mailing discounts and be “certified”, participants in the CASS program must renew their certification annually. Every year, the requirements for being a certified address provider get more difficult. For example: In August of 2007, the USPS required CASS participants to include delivery point validation (DPV) to verify whether or not an address is deliverable at the street/house/apartment level.

CASS certification is the ultimate take-home test. The CASS certification test contains 150,000 bad addresses, extracted from real-world cases everywhere the postal service delivers, plus a few non-existent addresses thrown in for good fun. Test takers (like us) must evaluate and correct each address by fixing the ZIP code, the street address, the unit type, the bar code digits, etcetera. To be approved as a CASS certified vendor you must score above 98.5%; this means you can only miss 2,250 addresses in total. A passing grade is an A+ (geez).

Although the USPS CASS program requires a mere 98.5% passing rate, real-world accuracy for address standardization is much higher. Why? For the purpose of rigorous testing, the USPS skews the CASS test towards unrealistic conditions, intentionally populating the test with 150,000 of the worst addresses you will ever see. Given normal conditions, real-world accuracy of a CASS certified provider exceeds 99.99%. In my decade of experience with address validation, I have seen only a small handful of real address we couldn’t validate.

No sleep for the us though, the next set of 150,000 addresses for 2011 should be here at any time. I think my wife’s friends learned more about address validation than they ever wanted to know. I’m not sure I’ll get invited to dinner with them again any time soon. Well, they asked for it!

Posted by: Geoff G.