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Imagine you receive an official package at work covered on all sides in 1-cent stamps.
Now imagine you have to lick and apply all of those 1-cent stamps to cover official mail for delivery.
Such was the situation Lois Phillips, mail clerk, and Dorene Gaines, installation postal officer, found themselves in shortly after they started working at the Fort Wainwright Official Mail Distribution Center.
Due to an unforeseen budget shortfall, the mailroom did not have the money to support official mail operations, even though the mailroom keeps emergency stamps on hand.
Additionally, a former employee purchased untold books of 1-cent stamps he thought were $1 stamps, creating the need to expend a lot of time and energy to mail packages in need of several dollars in postage. After doing the math, it’s obvious it takes a lot of stamps and a lot of licks to get packages where they need to go.
Therefore, it did not take long for Phillips and Gaines to figure out ways to ensure there would never be an official mail budget shortfall again.
Phillips found the easiest way to save money was to consolidate shipments units were sending in different boxes, often taking the contents of one half-empty flat rate box and putting them into another half-empty box.
“In the regulation, it states that I can consolidate registered, certified and insured mail,” Phillips said.
In one example, Phillips said she consolidated boxes requiring $117 in postage into boxes requiring only $65 in postage.
Gaines took notice and started sending savings reports to Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Wentland, Fort Wainwright garrison sergeant major. Wentland recognized the mailroom’s efforts as a candidate for a Lean Six Sigma project and forwarded the reports to Angela Major, Plans, Analysis and Integration Office chief and installation LSS officer.
“We classified it as a Lean Six Sigma Just Do It, which means they recognized that they had an opportunity to save the Army money,” Major said
A JDI is different than other LSS projects, she said, in that it could be implemented right away. Fully-staffed LSS projects can take anywhere from three months to two years, because they require capital investment up front or significant effort from the workforce to implement. Phillips’ and Gaines’ cost-cutting methods required neither.
“It’s so easy,” Major said. “It is one of these things that appears so simple, but I bet there are other installations that aren’t doing this.”
One LSS concept is that cost-cutting measures and timesaving ideas go Armywide. The garrison commander can push these ideas through U.S. Army Installation Command channels for wider implementation.
“If every Army installation was doing the same thing, that is a significant savings to the Army in the end,” Major said. “And it just takes one or two people to do it and make it happen.”
Phillips and Gaines said they didn’t do it for recognition, but to save taxpayers money. Another LSS concept is the employees’ acute awareness of fiscal responsibility.
“Cost culture is people like Lois and Dorene saying, ‘I am not going to spend my money, as someone who pays federal taxes, on something that I don’t think is the best use of my money,’” Major said.
“Whose money are we spending in the long run?” Phillips asked. “That would be our money.”
Another area where Phillips saved the installation money was in eliminating the use of the hard copy Postal Service Form 3811, Domestic Return Receipt, which costs $2.20 to mail, in favor of the electronic Proof of Delivery, which costs $1, for certified, registered and insured mail.
The paper 3811 is returned to sender like a postcard, requiring its own postage. The electronic POD is a scanned signature stored on the United States Postal Service Internet site.
Phillips sends the electronic PODs to the sending agency, keeping a hard copy on file in case of any glitches in the online system. Because the 3811 has been used for years, Phillips said she has found some resistance to the new electronic POD.
“We’re slowly wheedling people down to the point of doing electronic (PODs), because they still need a signature to say it got to its destination,” Phillips said.
She has also not been content to limit the cost-cutting measures to the mailroom.
“(Phillips) has developed some training and an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) so that she’s training other units to consolidate their mail,” Major said. “At some point in time, these ladies aren’t going to be here, but the work that they started will continue on.”
The measures have saved taxpayers money, but they have also put money back into the post mailroom’s budget for internal improvements.
“It is a better way of doing business for the garrison, and it is allowing them to spend in other areas that they may otherwise need to spend money on,” Major said.
Lean Six Sigma often contends with a “this is the way we have always done it” mentality that is not founded in Army regulations, Major said.
“What Lean Six Sigma does is it says we have a problem,” Major said. “Something is not working; let’s find the best solution to this problem. It is allowing us to fix our problems the first time.”
She said she hopes the cost culture catches on and other agencies look for ways to save money in day-to-day operations.
“I hope (Phillips and Gaines) inspire other people to take the initiative to do things better or do things a little bit cheaper, to be good stewards of our money,” Major said.