Pentagon to begin online delivery of US mail

Tuesday - 7/3/2012, 1:42pm EDT

Sonny Biddix, program manager for DoD's digital delivery effort, speaks to Federal News Radio's Jared Serbu

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The Pentagon next week will begin deploying a system that will give roughly 27,000 employees in the building the ability to treat their incoming postal mail in much the same way they treat their email: open and read it, ignore it or throw it away — all with the click of a mouse.

Even in an electronic age, the Pentagon gets mail. Lots of it. And most pieces are official mail, not grocery ads or home-mortgage offers. Each day, 13,000 pieces of mail come through the Defense Post Office, a DoD operation that is managed by Washington Headquarters Services and is separate from the U.S. Postal Service.

Under the Digital Delivery Mail Program, automated sorting equipment at the Pentagon's mail facility will capture a color image of the front and back of each envelope as it's processed into the system. Employees throughout the building will then be able to log in to a secure, web based system, view their day's mail and make a decision on how to handle it. The system will let users direct the Defense Post Office to deliver the physical mailpiece, open it and deliver just digital image of the contents, return it to the sender or discard it as junk mail.

"We're not going to take away what people are used to, which is the physical delivery of mail. You still have that option in the online system," said Sonny Biddix, program manager for the digital delivery effort. "We're just enhancing it. You might get a letter that's signed by a famous person for example and you want to keep the hard copy. But you might also want the digital image so you can send it around to the other folks you want to see it."

'A learning curve all the way through'

The program has its roots in an effort to make the Pentagon's mail delivery system more efficient. Until recently, it relied almost entirely on manual processes and touch labor. After a one-year pilot phase and proof of concept was completed, officials decided digital delivery was feasible for the entire Pentagon.

"Nobody's ever really done this on this scale before, so it was a learning curve all the way through," Biddix said. "We had to develop new workflows, develop our processes, really look at what we were doing and walk it through step-by-step, trial and error."

The system, which is government-owned and operated, goes into production mode next week in what Biddix said would be a phased approach to eventually serving the whole Pentagon. In the first phase, the system will serve senior leaders such as the secretary and deputy secretary of Defense.

DoD told lawmakers in a March report to Congress that the pilot phase of the program showed mail delivery could be sped up by about three hours each day and that tracking and accountability for mail was improved by integrating the system with the Pentagon's existing security systems managed by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency.

Biddix said there's a green benefit too: DoD hopes to cut down on junk mail.

"If you look at the amount of mail and paper that gets delivered and goes directly into the trash, we're going to now be able to identify that actual mail," he said. "Then we can go back to the companies and tell them to stop sending it."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report brought to you by United Health Military and Veterans Services. For more defense news, click here.