Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Audit: state could save millions by reducing snail mail

by Matt Rosenberg November 2nd, 2011

A performance audit released Tuesday says four large State of Washington agencies that were examined spent almost $10 million dollars last year for un-required bulk mailings. The report from Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office stops short of saying all the questioned mailings shouldn’t have been done, noting that there are times when for the sake of customer preferences, or because of limited access to technology for some stakeholders, when agencies may determine snail mail is the best option. Nonetheless, the audit said, state government has begun to find ways to save taxpayer funds by handling more business without postal service, and needs to step up such efforts further.

A look at 55 big mailings by four agencies
Overall, 102 state agencies paid Washington’s Consolidated Mail Services (CMS) $30.8 million in fiscal year 2010 and $25 million of that was for postage. CMS handled 66.6 million pieces of mail in fiscal 2010. The state performance audit team examined a representative slice of that volume; namely, 55 major mailings each of more than 100,000 pieces by four agencies who mail the most – the Employment Security Department, or ESD (which handles state unemployment benefits), the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI), the Department of Licensing (DOL) and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Confusion about snail mail requirements
Looking at the sample of 55 combined 2010 mailings each of 100,000 pieces or more by the four big state departments, representing 36.6 million individual pieces or slightly more than half the state total, the performance audit found that outgoing postage costs for the sample were $13.77 million but only 9.4 million pieces of that snail mail costing $3.87 million to send was necessary to meet requirements of state or federal law, state regulations, or collective bargaining agreements. In contrast, there was $7.7 million spent on large mailings, totaling 19.9 million pieces, where going postal was an option but not a requirement to transmit the information. There was also $2.2 million on other large mailings by the four selected agencies, totaling 7.2 million pieces, where there was no requirement at all to provide information. All told, in the audit, 27.1 million un-required pieces of mail were sent by the four agencies in large mailings in 2010 at a cost $9.9 million. The four agencies identified nearly three times as many pieces of mail as requiring postal service versus how many really required it.

The audit accented examples of un-required mailings that could have been handled through alternatives such email, provision of online information or consolidation of mailings. ESD sent more than 5.7 million pieces of information or payments to clients and work establishments for $2.6 million, and more than 400,000 initial unemployment claims letters for another $200,000-plus. DOL mailed more than one million driver’s license renewal notices at a cost of $525,000. DSHS for $258,000 sent more than 540,000 pieces of mail to clients related to financial assistance, eligibility and service termination. DLI for $256,000 sent 482,000 pieces to prompt payment of insurance premiums.

Some efficiencies found
However, the four agencies chosen for review are also taking some steps to save money by finding other ways to transmit information, according to the audit. There’s opt-in car tab license renewal reminders from DLI by email; and at ESD, direct deposits of unemployment checks in client accounts, and reprogramming of computers to cut from 22 to eight the number of average monthly mailings per client.

Officials at the four agencies said it’s not as easy as just eliminating all big mailings that aren’t required. Barriers include lack of resources and funds to upgrade and reprogram computer systems, and the cost of developing information for Web sites or in other media formats. Other barriers mentioned were lack of access to computers and Internet for some clients, as well as the preference of some clients for snail mail, and a perceived need to limit the risk of litigation.

Among the the final recommendations of the audit are that the state’s new Department of Enterprise Services should formulate guidelines to help agencies know when to consider avoiding snail mail, while agencies should continue current efforts to reduce outgoing mail ad track related results, while the legislature should excise language from all state laws requiring the use of mail.

Fr. Opportunities To Reduce State Mail Volume And Costs/Wash. State Auditor's office, November 1, 2011


Donate to our 501c3 tax-exempt parent non-profit, Public Eye Northwest.

One Response to “Audit: state could save millions by reducing snail mail”

  1. Roberto says:

    Interesting article. Were did you got all the information from… :)