United States Postal Service: Information on the Irradiation of  
Federal Mail in the Washington, D.C., Area (31-JUL-08,		 
GAO-08-938R).							 
                                                                 
In October 2001, spores of the deadly bacterium anthrax were	 
found in mail sent to members of the news media and congressional
leaders. In all, 22 people were infected with anthrax and 5	 
people died, including 2 postal workers. The United States Postal
Service (Service) took a variety of steps to protect people from 
biohazards in the mail. For example, the Service began		 
contracting for the irradiation of mail to recipients at the	 
Congress, the White House, and federal agencies with specific ZIP
Codes (20201 through 20597) in the Washington, D.C., area (D.C.  
federal mail). The irradiation process uses either a high-energy 
electron beam or X-rays to penetrate pieces of mail (mailpieces) 
and kill harmful organisms, such as anthrax. The Service	 
initially hired two contractors to irradiate the mail, one of	 
which operated between November 2001 and April 2002. The other	 
contractor has been irradiating mail since November 2001. In	 
addition, the Service hired contractors to transport the mail for
irradiation and to oversee the current irradiation contractor.	 
Senate Report 110-129, dated July 13, 2007, directed GAO to	 
report on the status of the Service's program for irradiating	 
D.C. federal mail since November 2001. In response to the	 
directive, this report describes: (1) the volume of mail	 
irradiated and how the volume has changed, (2) the cost of	 
irradiating mail and how the cost has changed, and (3) the extent
to which irradiation delays mail deliveries and how these	 
delivery delays have changed. In addition, given continuing	 
congressional interest, this report also provides information on 
the status of an irradiation facility in Washington, D.C.	 
-------------------------Indexing Terms------------------------- 
REPORTNUM:   GAO-08-938R					        
    ACCNO:   A83221						        
  TITLE:     United States Postal Service: Information on the	      
Irradiation of Federal Mail in the Washington, D.C., Area	 
     DATE:   07/31/2008 
  SUBJECT:   Agency missions					 
	     Anthrax						 
	     Appropriated funds 				 
	     Comparative analysis				 
	     Consumer protection				 
	     Continuity of operations				 
	     Contract costs					 
	     Cost analysis					 
	     Cost control					 
	     Data collection					 
	     Data integrity					 
	     Federal facilities 				 
	     Mail transportation operations			 
	     Postal facilities					 
	     Postal service					 
	     Radiation monitoring				 
	     Reporting requirements				 
	     Schedule slippages 				 

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GAO-08-938R

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July 31, 2008: 

Congressional Requesters: 

Subject: United States Postal Service: Information on the Irradiation 
of Federal Mail in the Washington, D.C., Area. 

In October 2001, spores of the deadly bacterium anthrax were found in 
mail sent to members of the news media and congressional leaders. In 
all, 22 people were infected with anthrax and 5 people died, including 
2 postal workers. The United States Postal Service (Service) took a 
variety of steps to protect people from biohazards in the mail. For 
example, the Service began contracting for the irradiation of mail to 
recipients at the Congress, the White House,[Footnote 1] and federal 
agencies with specific ZIP Codes (20201 through 20597) in the 
Washington, D.C., area (D.C. federal mail).[Footnote 2] The irradiation 
process uses either a high-energy electron beam or X-rays to penetrate 
pieces of mail (mailpieces) and kill harmful organisms, such as 
anthrax. The Service initially hired two contractors to irradiate the 
mail, one of which operated between November 2001 and April 2002. The 
other contractor has been irradiating mail since November 2001. In 
addition, the Service hired contractors to transport the mail for 
irradiation and to oversee the current irradiation contractor. 

Senate Report 110-129, dated July 13, 2007,[Footnote 3] directed GAO to 
report on the status of the Service's program for irradiating D.C. 
federal mail since November 2001. In response to the directive, this 
report describes: 

* the volume of mail irradiated and how the volume has changed, 

* the cost of irradiating mail and how the cost has changed, and: 

* the extent to which irradiation delays mail deliveries and how these 
delivery delays have changed. 

In addition, given continuing congressional interest, this report also 
provides information on the status of an irradiation facility in 
Washington, D.C. 

To accomplish our work, we (1) analyzed relevant documentation on each 
of the four reporting objectives, as well as available data on the 
volumes, cost, and delivery delays associated with irradiating D.C. 
federal mail from November 2001 through April 2008; (2) interviewed 
Service officials and personnel of the current irradiation contractor 
and the contractor that oversees the Service's irradiation contract; 
and (3) toured the Service's mail preparation facility in Washington, 
D.C., and the contractor's irradiation facility in New Jersey. We did 
not attempt to determine whether, or to what extent, the additional 
mail screening processes used by some federal agencies further delay 
mail to agency recipients because any such delays would not be 
attributable to the irradiation process. 

To test the reliability of available data, we (1) compared, as 
applicable, available data from various sources to identify differences 
and possible errors between and within the data sets; (2) discussed 
identified differences and possible errors with appropriate Service and 
contractor personnel; and (3) obtained agreement from these personnel 
on our data analyses. When we did not have access to multiple data 
sources, we consulted with knowledgeable officials and provided our 
analysis for their corroboration. Finally, for data on the volume and 
costs of irradiating mail, we also obtained, evaluated, and discussed 
applicable data collection, entry, and control procedures with 
appropriate Service and contractor personnel. 

While we determined that available data were sufficiently reliable for 
our reporting purposes, the data were incomplete because of the 
Service's 4-year record retention policy and a change to its accounting 
system. For example, data on the volume of mail irradiated by one of 
two contractors the Service used from November 2001 through April 2002, 
as well as any delivery delays associated with these mail volumes, are 
no longer available. In addition, data on the costs of the Service's 
supplies and staffing for fiscal years 2002 and 2003, as well as its 
contractor costs for transporting the mail to and from the two 
irradiation facilities it used in fiscal year 2002, are not available. 
Further, cost and payment information on certain other contractor 
costs, such as the cost (and the year or years of payment) associated 
with designing ventilating equipment for the Service's mail preparation 
facility, monitoring air in the facility, and performing environmental 
sampling of irradiated mail containers, also was not available. 
Finally--even though they are generally available--we have chosen not 
to report data on contract costs by type of service rendered because 
doing so could adversely affect future procurements for these services. 

We conducted this performance audit from March 2008 through June 2008 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings 
based on our audit objectives. 

On July 23 and July 28, 2008, we briefed your staffs on the results of 
our work. This report formally conveys the information provided in 
those briefings (see enclosure). In summary, we found the following: 

* According to available data, about 1.2 million containers of D.C. 
federal mail were irradiated from November 2001 through April 
2008,[Footnote 4] and the volume of mail irradiated is declining. 
Nearly all of this mail volume was First-Class Mail packed in boxes 
weighing from about 15 to 20 pounds. The average number of mail 
containers irradiated monthly declined from about 23,700 in fiscal year 
2002 to about 11,700 in fiscal year 2007. Data for October 2007 through 
April 2008 indicates a further decline to a monthly average of about 
10,900 containers. The decline in the volume of mail irradiated is due 
to a number of factors, including overall decreases in mailings of 
First-Class Mail and agencies' actions to bypass the irradiation 
process, such as by changing their mailing addresses (Zip Code) or 
using alternative sources of mail delivery--FedEx, for example. 

* The cost for irradiating D.C. federal mail exceeded $74.7 million 
from November 2001 through April 2008, based on available 
data.[Footnote 5] The vast majority of these costs, about $66.2 million 
(89 percent), was for contractors to transport and irradiate the mail 
and for the oversight contractor to manage and oversee the current 
irradiation contractor. The remaining costs, about $8.5 million (11 
percent) were for the Service's staff, supplies, and mail preparation 
facility, among other expenses. The Service paid at least $74.3 million 
of the approximately $74.7 million from its general operating fund--
i.e., funds from the Service's revenues.[Footnote 6] Annual costs for 
fiscal years 2004 through 2007--the period with more complete data--
remained relatively constant, averaging about $12 million. Most costs 
are unaffected by declines in the volume of mail irradiated. 

* Although the Service's deliveries to agency mail rooms (and third-
party agents hired to receive and handle an agency's mail) were 
initially delayed up to 3 months in the months immediately following 
the October 2001 anthrax incident, by late February 2002, the time 
frame for delivering irradiated mail had decreased to about 8 days. 
Currently, D.C. federal mail typically is delayed 2 to 3 days. 
Additional delays have been infrequent but have occurred because of 
factors such as repair and maintenance at the irradiation facility that 
affect entire trailer loads of mail, as well as packing errors and 
irradiation damage that affect individual boxes of mail. Available 
contractor data (June 29, 2003, through April 2008) indicate that 15 
delivery delays-- generally caused by repair and maintenance issues at 
the irradiation facility--affected trailer loads of mail. Ten of the 15 
incidents lasted 1 day, while the remainder delayed trailer loads of 
mail up to 5 days. In addition, available data indicate that 271 boxes 
of the approximately 1.2 million mail containers irradiated were 
delayed because of packing errors at the Service's mail preparation 
facility from November 2001 through April 2008--an annual average of 42 
boxes. Such delays occur when a box of mail falls outside the 
prescribed weight range for irradiation and typically delay boxes of 
mail by 1 additional day. Finally, the high level of heat (up to 150 
degrees Fahrenheit) generated by the irradiation process can scorch a 
box of mail and--depending on the severity of the scorching--damage 
(and possibly destroy) a portion of the mail inside. Based on available 
contractor data, 663 boxes of mail were damaged from November 2001 
through April 2008--an average of about 102 boxes each year. Delays 
resulting from damage to individual mailpieces cannot be determined 
because the Service does not maintain data on (1) the number of 
mailpieces damaged by irradiation, (2) the time (i.e., delay) 
associated with delivering damaged mailpieces, or (3) the number of 
mailpieces so severely damaged they cannot be delivered. 

* While Congress appropriated $7 million in 2005 for an irradiation 
facility in Washington, D.C., the Service has not yet used the funds 
but is exploring options that may provide an opportunity to use them. 
In January 2008, the Service decided to abandon its efforts to build an 
irradiation facility in Washington, D.C., because of cost and other 
considerations, deciding instead to continue contracting for these 
services. According to Service officials, the Service will decide how, 
or whether, to use the $7 million appropriation after the Service has 
(1) received and evaluated contractor offers on its solicitation for 
the continuation of irradiation services and (2) completed the 
solicitation process--a process that is expected to conclude in early 
2009. According to Service officials, it is possible that contractors 
will propose irradiating mail at a facility in Washington, D.C. After 
evaluating the offers, the Service will make a final decision on how to 
proceed, including whether to request congressional approval to use the 
funds to help offset its ongoing costs for irradiating D.C. federal 
mail. 

We provided the Service with a draft of the enclosure, and we have 
incorporated its technical comments, as appropriate. 

We are sending copies of this report to the Postmaster General, 
appropriate congressional committees, and other interested parties. We 
also will make copies available to others upon request. In addition, 
the report will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site at h 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staffs have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-2834 or h [Hyperlink, [email protected]] 
[email protected] Contact points for our Offices of Congressional Relations 
and Public Affairs may be found on the last page of this report. Key 
contributors to this report were Kathleen Turner, Assistant Director; 
Tonnye Conner-White; Heather Frevert; and Joshua Ormond. 

Signed by: 

Phillip R. Herr: 

Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

Enclosure: 

List of Congressional Requesters: 

The Honorable Richard J. Durbin: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable Sam Brownback: 
Ranking Member: 
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government: 
Committee on Appropriations: 
United States Senate: 

The Honorable Jose E. Serrano: 
Chairman: 
The Honorable Ralph Regula: 
Ranking Member: 
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government: 
Committee on Appropriations: 
House of Representatives: 

[End of section] 

United States Postal Service: 
Information on the Irradiation of Federal Mail in the Washington, D.C., 
Area: 

Briefing to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees: 
July 2008: 

GAO Briefing: Irradiation of Federal Mail: 

Contents: 

Introduction (Slides 3 to 4); 
Objectives (Slide 5); 
Scope and Methodology (Slides 6 to 9); 
Summary (Slides 10 to 11); 
Background (Slides 12 to 20); 
Objective 1: Volumes of Mail Irradiated (Slides 21 to 24); 
Objective 2: Cost of Irradiating Mail (Slides 25 to 28); 
Objective 3: Delays in Delivering Irradiated Mail (Slides 29 to ~ 37);  
Objective 4: Status of an Irradiation Facility in Washington, D.C. 
(Slides 38 to 41); 

Introduction: 

In October 2001, spores of the deadly bacterium anthrax were found in 
mail sent to members of the news media and congressional leaders. Two 
contaminated letters were sent to senators, one of which resulted in 30 
congressional employees being exposed. In all, 22 people were infected 
with anthrax, and 5 people died, including 2 postal workers. This event 
was the first of its kind in the United States and, consequently, 
resulted in a lengthy, multi-agency federal response. 

The United States Postal Service (the Service) took a variety of steps 
to protect people from biohazards in the mail.

For example, the Service began contracting for the irradiation of mail 
to recipients at the Congress, the White House,[Footnotes 7] and 
federal agencies with specific ZIP Codes (20201 through 20597) in the 
Washington, D.C., area (D.C. federal mail).[Footnote 8] 

The Service initially hired two contractors to irradiate the mail, one 
of which operated between November 2001 and April 2002. The other 
contractor has been irradiating mail since November 2001. In addition, 
the Service hired contractors to transport the mail and to oversee the 
current irradiation contractor. 

The irradiation process uses either a high-energy electron beam or X-
rays to penetrate mailpieces and kill harmful organisms, such as 
anthrax. Mailpieces are irradiated in two types of containers�boxes 
which primarily hold First-Class Mail, and stainless steel �totes� 
which hold packages (parcels). 

In addition, although other mail is not irradiated, the Service 
installed biohazard detection equipment at each of its 272 processing 
and distribution centers nationwide to identify anthrax in the U.S. 
mailstream.

Pursuant to Senate Report 110-129, dated July 13, 2007,[Footnote 9] 
this briefing provides information on the status of the Services 
program for irradiating D.C. federal mail since November 2001. 
Specifically, as directed by the Congress, this briefing will describe: 

* the volume of mail irradiated and how the volume has changed, 

* the cost of irradiating mail and how the cost has changed, and:  

* the extent to which irradiation delays mail deliveries and how these 
delivery delays have changed. 

Given continuing congressional interest, this briefing also provides 
information on the status of an irradiation facility in Washington, 
D.C. 

Scope and Methodology: 

To accomplish our work, we: 

* analyzed relevant documentation and available data on the volumes, 
cost, and delivery delays associated with irradiating D.C. federal mail 
from November 2001 through April 2008; 

* interviewed Service officials, as well as personnel of (1) the 
current irradiation contractor and (2) the contractor that oversees the 
Service�s irradiation contract; and: 

* toured the Service�s mail preparation facility in Washington, D.C., 
and the contractor�s irradiation facility in New Jersey. 

We did not attempt to determine whether, or to what extent the 
additional mail screening processes used by some federal agencies 
further delay mail to agency recipients because any such delays would 
not be attributable to the irradiation process. 

Full Reporting on Volumes, Cost, and Delivery Delays Is Constrained by 
Incomplete Data and Other Limitations: 

Incomplete information limits full reporting:[Footnote 10] 

Data on the volume of mail irradiated by one of two contractors the 
Service used from November 2001 through April 2002, as well as any 
delivery delays associated with these mail volumes, are no longer 
available. 

Data on the costs of the Service�s supplies and staffing for fiscal 
year (FY) 2002 and FY 2003 and its contractor costs for transporting 
the mail to and from the two irradiation facilities it used in FY 2002 
are not available. In addition, cost and/or payment information on 
certain other contractor costs, such as the cost (and the year or years 
of payment) associated with designing ventilating equipment for the 
Service�s mail preparation facility, monitoring air in the facility, 
and performing environmental sampling of irradiated containers also was 
not available. 

Other reporting limitations:

We have chosen not to report on contract costs, by type of service 
rendered, because doing so could adversely affect future procurements 
for these services.

Available Data Are Sufficiently Reliable for Our Reporting Purposes: 

We tested available data to ensure that they were sufficient for our 
reporting purposes: 

We compared, as applicable, available data from various sources to 
identify differences and possible errors between and within the data 
sets, discussed identified differences and possible errors with 
appropriate Service and contractor personnel, and obtained agreement 
from these personnel on our data analyses. 

When we did not have access to multiple data sources, we consulted with 
knowledgeable officials and provided our analysis for their 
corroboration.

For data on the volume and costs of irradiating mail, we also obtained, 
evaluated, and discussed applicable data collection, entry, and control 
procedures with appropriate Service and contractor personnel.

Performed Work in Accordance with Applicable Standards: 

We provided the Service with a draft of the text used in these slides 
and incorporated its technical comments, as appropriate. 

We conducted this performance audit from March 2008 through June 2008 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings 
based on our audit objectives. 

Summary: 

About 1.2 million containers of D.C. federal mail were irradiated from 
November 2001 through April 30, 2008,[Footnote 11] and the annual 
volume of mail irradiated is declining. 

The cost for irradiating D.C. federal mail exceeded $74.7 million from 
November 2001 through April 30, 2008.[Footnote 11] Annual costs from FY 
2004 through FY 2007�the period with more complete data�remained 
relatively constant, averaging about $12 million.[Footnote 12] 

While the Service initially experienced prolonged delays in delivering 
irradiated D.C. federal mail, the current delay is typically 2 to 3 
days. Additional delays have been infrequent, but have occurred because 
of factors such as repair and maintenance at the irradiation facility, 
which affect entire trailer loads of mail, and packing errors and 
irradiation damage, which affect individual boxes of mail. 

While Congress appropriated $7 million in FY 2005 for an irradiation 
facility in Washington, D.C., the Service has not yet used the funds, 
but is exploring options that may provide an opportunity to use the 
funds. 

Background: 

Introduction of Anthrax into the U.S. Mailstream: 

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease that is caused by the Bacilus 
anthracis bacterium, which is commonly found in soils and forms spores 
(like seeds). Human anthrax infections are rare in the United States. 
However, if anthrax spores enter the body, they can produce local 
swelling and tissue death.

After anthrax was discovered in the U.S. mailstream, delivery of D.C. 
federal mail was suspended and mail was stored while the Service and a 
wide range of federal authorities deliberated on the appropriate 
response. 

Figure: The Volume of Stored D.C. Federal Mail (Backlogged Mail) in the 
Service�s Possession Immediately following the Anthrax Incident Was 
Substantial.[Footnote 13] 

This figure is a diagram of the volume of stored D.C. federal mail 
(backlogged mail) in the service's possession immediately following the 
anthrax incident was substantial. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

Decision to Irradiate D.C. Federal Mail: 

Once government authorities determined that irradiation was the best 
option for treating (sanitizing) the mail, they developed irradiation 
protocols and the Service contracted with companies to transport and 
irradiate the mail. 

The irradiation process sterilizes objects, such as mail, by passing 
them through either a high-energy electron beam or 
-ray, both of which penetrate deeply into an object and kill harmful 
organisms, such as anthrax. 

With the exception of the Service�s headquarters in Washington 
D.C.,�ZIP Code 20260�all First-Class Mail and Priority Mail to 
addresses with ZIP Codes between 20201 and 20597 are currently 
irradiated.[Footnote 14] 

Table: The Anthrax Incident Led to Changes in How D.C. Federal Mail Is 
Processed: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[A] The Brentwood facility was renamed the Joseph CurseenJr. and Thomas 
Morris Jr. Processing and Distribution Center, in memory of the two 
Brentwood employees who died of inhalation anthrax. 

[B] The mail preparation facility also receives a small portion of 
mail, including misdirected mail, from the Service�s delivery facility.

[End of table] 

Overview of the Current Irradiation Process: 

Mail arrives at the Service�s mail preparation facility where postal 
employees combine mailpieces and parcels into containers.[Footnote 15] 
First-Class Mail and Priority Mail are combined in boxes, while parcels 
are combined in totes. As shown below, totes are large stainless steel 
containers that can hold up to 500 pounds of parcels. 

Figure: 

This figure is a picture of stainless steel totes. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: United States Postal Service contractor. 

[End of figure] 

Postal employees load boxes and totes onto a trailer used solely for 
transporting mail to the irradiation facility, currently in New Jersey.

* Typically, one trailer load of mail is sent for irradiation each day.

The contractor transports the trailer to the irradiation facility, 
usually arriving in the early evening. 

* Facility employees verify that the correct number of mail containers 
arrived, unload the trailer, and begin the irradiation process.

Figure: 

This figure is a picture of boxes of mail moving through the 
irradiation facility. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: United States Postal Service. 

[End of figure] 

Boxes of mail are irradiated shortly after receipt using electron-beam 
technology, which takes several hours to complete. The boxes are 
typically available for pickup the following morning.

Totes containing parcels are irradiated later using X-ray technology, 
which requires more time. Totes are typically returned to the Service 2 
days after arriving at the facility. 

The contractor picks up the irradiated mail and transports it to the 
Service�s mail preparation facility, where the mail is unloaded and 
�aired out� for 24 hours to dissipate fumes. 

The mail is then transferred to the Service�s delivery facility, where 
it is processed and (in most cases) delivered to either (1) an agency�s 
mail room or (2) a third-party agent the agency hired to receive and 
handle an agency�s mail.[Footnote 16]  

Finally, some federal agencies, including the White House and the 
Pentagon, take additional steps�including screening and environmental 
sampling�to ensure the safety of their mail. 

* Such activities may further delay mail delivery to the intended 
recipient and are beyond the control of the Service.

Objective 1: Volumes: 

Summary: Volumes of D.C. Federal Mail Irradiated, November 2001 through 
April 2008: 

About 1.2 million containers of D.C. federal mail were irradiated from 
November 2001 through April 30, 2008,[Footnote 17] and the annual 
volume of mail irradiated is declining. 

Volume of Mail Containers Irradiated from FY 2002 through FY 2007: 

Available data indicate that the volume of mail containers irradiated 
was greatest in FY 2002, when the backlogged mail was irradiated. 
Volumes have since declined substantially. 

Figure: 

This figure is a line graph. The X axis represents the fiscal year, and 
the Y axis represents the number of containers (in thousands). 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of United States Postal Service contractor data. 

[A] Does not include data for mail irradiated by one of two contractors 
used between November 2001 and April 2002 for which data are no longer 
available. 

[End of figure] 

Volumes of Mail Irradiated Declined Substantially from FY 2002 through 
FY 2007: 

According to data from the Service�s contractor, which has been 
irradiating D.C. federal mail since November 2001, it had irradiated 
about 1.2 million containers of mail as of April 30, 2008. 

* Nearly all of the mail volume (99.8 percent) was irradiated in boxes.

Available data indicate that the average number of containers 
irradiated monthly declined from about 23,700 in FY 2002 to about 
11,700 in FY 2007.

* Data for the first 7 months of FY 2008 indicate a further decline in 
the volume�down to about 10,900 containers per month. 

The continuing decline in the volume of mail irradiated is due to a 
number of factors, including: 

* Overall the volume of First-Class Mail sent annually has decreased, 
partly because of the increased use of e-mail. 

* Some federal agencies in Washington, D.C., have changed their mailing 
address (ZIP Code), thereby by- passing the irradiation process. 

* Some federal agencies use alternative sources of mail delivery (e.g., 
FedEx, UPS, etc.) to by-pass the Service�s irradiation process.

Objective 2: Cost: 

Summary: Cost of Irradiating D.C. Federal Mail, November 2001 through 
April 2008: 

The cost for irradiating D.C. federal mail exceeded $74.7 million from 
November 2001 through April 30, 2008.[Footnote 18] Annual costs from FY 
2004 through FY 2007�the period with more complete data�remained 
relatively constant, averaging about $12 million.[Footnote 19] 

Available Data on the Cost of Irradiating D.C. Federal Mail, November 
2001 through April 30, 2008: 

According to available data, costs exceeded $74.7 million. 

* 89 percent of these costs, or about $66.2 million, were for 
contractors to transport and irradiate the mail, and for the oversight 
contractor to manage and oversee the current irradiation contractor. 

* 11 percent, or about $8.5 million, were for the Service�s staff, 
supplies, and mail preparation facility, among other expenses. Most 
costs are unaffected by declines in the volume of mail irradiated. 

* The Service paid at least $74.3 million of the approximately $74.7 
million from its general operating fund�i.e., funds from postal Service 
revenues.[Footnote 20] 

Figure: 

This figure is a line graph and pie graph. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of United States Postal Service data. 

[A] Data on the costs of the Service�s supplies and staffing for FY 
2002 and FY 2003 and its contractor costs for transporting the mail to 
and from the two irradiation facilities it used in FY 2002 are not 
available. In addition, cost and/or payment information on certain 
other contractor costs such as the cost (and year or years of payment) 
associated with designing ventilating equipment for the service�s mail 
preparation facility, monitoring air in the facility, and performing 
environmental sampling of irradiated containers also was not available. 
All costs are in current dollars. 

[B] We have chosen not to report data on contract costs, by type of 
service rendered, because doing so could affect future procurements for 
these services. 

[End of figure] 

Available Data on the Annual Cost of Irradiating D.C. Federal Mail, FY 
2004 to FY 2007: 

The Service�s annual cost for irradiating D.C. federal mail have 
remained relatively constant, ranging from a low of about $11.6 million 
in FY 2004 to a high of about $12.3 million in FY 2006, based on 
available data.[Footnote 21] 

* Average annual costs were about $12 million during the 4- year period.

* Costs for contracted services averaged about $10.3 million annually, 
while the Service�s other costs averaged about $1.7 million annually. 

Objective 3: Delays: 

Summary: Delays in Delivering Irradiated D.C. Federal Mail, November 
2001 through April 2008: 

While the Service initially experienced prolonged delays in delivering 
irradiated D.C. federal mail, the current delay is typically 2 to 3 
days.  Additional delays have been infrequent, but have occurred 
because of factors such as repair and maintenance at the irradiation 
facility, which affect entire trailer loads of mail, and packing errors 
and irradiation damage, which affect individual boxes of mail. 

Mail Deliveries Were Delayed Up to 3 Months Immediately following the 
Anthrax Incident. 

There were prolonged delays in delivering D.C. federal mail to agency 
mail rooms (and to agents hired to receive and handle an agency�s mail) 
in the months immediately following the October 2001 anthrax incident. 

* The Service�s deliveries were delayed up to 3 months, initially, 
partly because it took about 2 months to irradiate the backlogged 
mail.[Footnote 22] 

* By late February 2002, according to an advisory from the U.S. General 
Services Administration,[Footnote 23] the time frame for delivering 
irradiated mail had decreased to about 8 days from the point of mailing 
to delivery.  

GAO Briefing: Irradiation of 30 Federal Mail: 

Current Delays Are Typically 2 to 3 Days,[Footnote 24] Depending on 
whether the Mail Is Irradiated in Boxes (2 Days) or Totes (3 Days). 

Figure: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

Factors that Can Cause Additional Delivery Delays: 

While a 2- to 3-day delay in the delivery of irradiated mail is 
currently typical, numerous factors can cause additional delivery 
delays. Some of these factors can delay an entire trailer load of mail 
(boxes and totes), including: 

* repair and maintenance at the irradiation facility, 

* power outages at the irradiation facility, and: 

* inclement weather (which can affect the transportation of the 
mail).[Footnote 25] 

Other factors, such as packing errors and damages caused by 
irradiation, can delay individual boxes of mail.[Footnote 26] 

Additional Delivery Delays Have Been Infrequent[Footnote 27]: 

Available contractor data (June 29, 2003, through April 30, 2008), 
indicate that 15 delivery delays have affected trailer loads of mail. 
Nearly one-half of these delays occurred in FY 2003. The 15 delays 
generally resulted from repair and maintenance issues at the 
irradiation facility. 

* Ten of 15 incidents lasted 1 day. 

* The remaining incidents lasted longer, delaying trailer loads of mail 
up to 5 days.

Packing errors:  According to Service officials, boxes under 14.9 
pounds and over 20 pounds cannot be properly irradiated.[Footnote 28]  
Instead, these boxes must be returned to the Service, repackaged, and 
then returned for irradiation. 

* Available data indicate that 271 boxes out of approximately 1.2 
million containers were delayed because of packing errors from November 
2001 through April 30, 2008�an annual average of 42 boxes. 

* Returning boxes for repackaging typically delays mail by 1 additional 
day. 

Additional Delivery Delays Can Occur because of Damage Caused by the 
Irradiation Process: 

Figure: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[End of figure] 

The high level of heat (up to 150� F) can scorch a box of mail and, 
depending on the severity of the scorching, damage (and, possibly, 
destroy) a portion of the mail inside.  Scorching most often occurs in 
dry winter months when humidity levels are low and paper is dryer. 

Scorched Boxes Create the Possibility of Additional Delivery Delays for 
Any Mailpieces within the Boxes that Are Burnt: 

Figure: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO. 

[A] Personnel at the Service�s two Mail Recovery Centers are authorized 
to open undeliverable mail, including mailpieces damaged by the 
irradiation process, to determine whether the mailpiece contains any 
information that could assist the Service in either (1) delivering the 
mailpiece or (2) returning the mailpiece to the sender. 

[End of figure] 

Available Data Suggest that Delays due to Irradiation Damage Also Have 
Been Infrequent: 

Based on available contractor data, 663 boxes of mail were damaged from 
November 2001 through April 30, 2008�an average of about 102 boxes each 
year.[Footnote 30]  

Delays resulting from damages to individual mailpieces cannot be 
determined because the Service does not maintain data on: 

* the number of mailpieces damaged by irradiation, 

* the time (i.e., delay) associated with delivering damaged mailpieces, 
or: 

* the number of mailpieces that are so severely damaged that they 
cannot be delivered. 

Objective 4: Facility Status: 

Summary: Status of an Irradiation Facility in Washington, D.C.: 

While Congress appropriated $7 million in FY 2005 for an irradiation 
facility in Washington, D.C., the Service has not yet used the funds, 
but is exploring options that may provide an opportunity to use the 
funds. 

The Service Has Not Spent the $7 Million Appropriated: 

In FY 2005, Congress appropriated $507 million for the Service�s 
emergency preparations.[Footnote 31] (The appropriation was 
subsequently reduced to $503 million due to an across-the-board funding 
rescission.) 

* $7 million of this amount was designated �for the mail irradiation 
facility in Washington, D.C.� 

According to Service officials, the Service has not spent the $7 
million appropriation.  However, it has spent about $1.5 million of its 
funds (i.e., funds from the Service�s revenues) exploring the 
possibility of building an irradiation facility in Washington, D.C. 

* The funds were spent for (1) activities related to site 
identification and (2) environmental assessments. 

The Service Expects to Make Its Decision on Using the Appropriation in 
Early 2009: 

In January 2008, the Service decided to abandon its efforts to build an 
irradiation facility in Washington, D.C., because of cost and other 
considerations, deciding instead to continue contracting for these 
services. 

The Service plans to issue a solicitation for the continuation of 
irradiation services in September 2008.    

According to Service officials, the Service will decide on how, or 
whether, to use the $7 million appropriation after it has (1) received 
and evaluated contractor offers and (2) completed the solicitation 
process�a process that is expected to culminate in early 2009.  

* Postal officials believe that contractors who respond to the 
solicitation may provide (1) a means to irradiate mail in the 
Washington, D.C., area and, if so, (2) an opportunity to use the $7 
million appropriation.  

According to Service officials, if the Service determines after 
exploring its options that it is not feasible to operate an irradiation 
facility in Washington, D.C., it will make a final decision on how to 
proceed, including whether to request congressional approval to use the 
funds to help offset its ongoing costs for irradiating D.C. federal 
mail. 

Figure: Timeline of Actions Related to Irradiating Mail in Washington, 
D.C.: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of United States Postal Service information. 

[End of figure] 

Footnotes: 

[1] We use the term "agency" or "agencies" to refer to federal entities-
-including Congress and the White House--with specific ZIP Codes in the 
Washington, D.C., area. 

[2] Mail to ZIP Code 20260--the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters--is no 
longer irradiated. It is processed in the same manner as all other 
nonirradiated mail. 

[3] Accompanying the Financial Services and General Government 
Appropriations Bill, H.R. 2829, 110th Cong. (2007); the Financial 
Services Bill was folded into the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 
2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161, 121 Stat. 1844 (Dec. 26, 2007). 

[4] The Service uses two types of containers to irradiate mail--boxes, 
which primarily hold First-Class Mail, and stainless steel "totes," 
which hold parcels. Data are not available on the number of individual 
mailpieces irradiated in containers since November 2001. In addition, 
data on the volume of mail containers irradiated by one of the two 
contractors the Service used from November 2001 through April 2002 are 
no longer available. 

[5] Data on the costs of the Service's supplies and staffing for fiscal 
years 2002 and 2003, and its contractor costs for transporting the mail 
to and from the two irradiation facilities it used in fiscal year 2002, 
are not available. In addition, cost and payment information on certain 
other contractor costs, such as the cost (and year or years of payment) 
associated with designing ventilating equipment for the Service's mail 
preparation facility, monitoring air in the facility, and performing 
environmental sampling of irradiated containers, also was not 
available. Data on all costs available are presented in current 
dollars, i.e., they have not been adjusted for inflation. 

[6] We excluded $388,000--the approximate cost of the biohazard 
detection system installed in the mail preparation facility--from the 
$74.7 million total because the Service paid for this system using 
appropriated funds. 

[7] We use the term �agency� or �agencies� to refer to federal 
entities, including the Congress and the White House, with specific ZIP 
Codes in the Washington, D.C., area. 

[8] Mail to ZIP Code 20260�the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters�is no 
longer irradiated. It is processed the same way as all other non- 
irradiated mail. 

[9] Accompanying Financial Services and General Government 
Appropriations Bill, H.R. 2829, 110th Cong. (2007); Financial Services 
Bill was folded into Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 
110-161, 121 Stat. 1844 (Dec. 26, 2007). 

[10] In its technical comments on a draft of this briefing, the Service 
stated it could not provide all data on volumes, costs, and delays due 
to (1) its four year record retention policy and (2) a change in its 
accounting system. 

[11] Data on the volume and cost of mail irradiated since November 2001 
are incomplete for the reasons just discussed. 

[12] All costs are in current dollars, i.e, they have not been adjusted 
for inflation. 

[13] According to Service officials, there were numerous instances in 
which agencies, or agents for an agency, returned very large volumes of 
mail to h Service for irradiation many months later and, in one case, 
about 18 months after the October 2001 anthrax incident. Because these 
volumes not part of the initial backlog of mail, they are not depicted 
in the figure above. 

[14] Initially all D.C. federal mail was irradiated. Over time, 
however, a decision was made to focus on First-Class Mail and Priority 
Mail because of the increased risk these classes of mail pose. 
Additional classes of mail are irradiated for the Senate and the White 
House. 

[15] The Service operates a biohazard detection system at the facility 
to detect anthrax. 

[16] Some agencies use couriers to pick-up their mail from the Service. 

[17] Data are not available for the number of individual mailpieces 
irradiated since November 2001. In addition, data on the volume of mail 
irradiated by one of two contractors the Service used from November 
2001 through April 2002 are no longer available. 

[18] Data on the costs of the Service�s supplies and staffing for FY 
2002 and FY 2003 and its contractor costs for transporting the mail to 
and from the two irradiation facilities it used in FY 2002 are not 
available. In addition, cost and/or payment information on certain 
other contractor costs, such as the cost (and year or years of payment) 
associated with designing ventilating equipment for the Service�s mail 
preparation facility, monitoring air in the facility, and performing 
environmental sampling of irradiated containers also was not 
available.  

[19] All costs are in current dollars, i.e, they have not been adjusted 
for inflation. 

[20] We excluded $388,000�the approximate cost of the biohazard 
detection system installed in the mail preparation facility�from the 
$74.7 million total because the Service paid for this system using 
appropriated funds. As noted previously, all costs are in current 
dollars. 

[21] We focused on FY 2004 through FY 2007 because, as discussed 
previously, data for this period are more complete. 

[22] According to Service officials, prolonged delivery delays also 
occurred well after the point when all of the backlogged mail had been 
irradiated and delivered. Specifically, according to the officials, 
there were numerous instances in which agencies, or agents for an . 
agency, returned very large volumes of D.C. federal mail to the Service 
for irradiation many months later and, in one case, about 18 months 
after the October 2001 anthrax incident. The agencies/agents had held 
the mail, rather than providing it to the intended mail recipients.

[23] The General Services Administration is required to provide 
assistance to federal agencies on records management, including the 
processing of mail. 

[24] Because the vast majority of D.C. federal mail is irradiated in 
boxes, this figure is intended to depict the typical timeline for 
delivering this mail.  As discussed previously, parcels irradiated in 
totes typically are delayed 1 additional day. 

[25] Isolated events, unrelated to the irradiation process, can also 
disrupt the processing of D.C. federal mail. For example, according to 
the current contractor�s records, from June p9, 2003, through April 30, 
2008, the Service held up two shipments of mail to the irradiation 
facility due to the possibility of biohazards, such as anthrax, in the 
mail. We did not include these delays in our analysis because the cause 
of the delays was unrelated to the irradiation process. 

[26] According to Service officials, the X-ray technology used to 
irradiate totes eliminates the possibility of delays due to either 
packing errors or damages to the contents of parcels. 

[27] According to Service officials, additional delays have been 
infrequent, in part, because the Service adjusts its schedule and staff 
to ensure on-time delivery of D.C. federal mail whenever the mail is 
received from the irradiation facility less than 6 hours late. 

[28] Boxes weighing under 14.9 pounds would receive an excessively high 
dose of irradiation, while boxes weighing over 20 pounds would not 
receive the minimum required dose. 

[30] Nearly all of these boxes were burnt.  However, according to the 
current irradiation contractor, there have been one or two occasions 
when a box of mail was crushed by a malfunction of the conveyor belt 
used to move boxes of mail through the facility. 

[31] Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Pub. L. No. 108-447, 118 
Stat. 2809 (Dec. 8, 2004). 

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