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THE HANDLING AND FILING OF CORRESPONDENCE. For the purpose of obtaining a basis for judgment concerning the economy or waste with which the ordinary business processes are conducted by the Government, several detailed inquiries have been instituted by the commission. Among the processes which it was thought would be common to all branches of the service is the handling and filing of correspondence. The subject as outlined for the investigation embraces the various methods of preparing communications of all kinds, including letters, circulars, forms, etc. It not only includes the manual operations, but also the use made of mechanical appliances to facilitate such operations.
The inquiry has included every office of the nine executive departments in the District of Columbia and a number of services outside the departments. It has also gone into the practices of certain private corporations, some of which handle as many as 15,000 pieces of correspondence a day. The commission has also had access to the data collected in connection with previous Government inquiries on the subject. The conclusions arrived at, therefore, are based on a consideration of a wider range of data than has been brought together in the past.
As the result of the inquiry, and after a study of the needs of the various offices in the executive departments and other establishments, from the standpoint of an economical and efficient dispatch of the public business, the commission arrived at the following conclusions concerning the principles that should govern in the matter of handling and filing correspondence and preparing and mailing communications:
1. That the system of folding correspondence and filing in document files should be discontinued, and that all correspondence should be filed flat in vertical files.
2. That the briefing of correspondence should be discontinued.
3. That all correspondence, both incoming and copies of outgoing, should be filed upon a subjective classification arranged as nearly as possible upon a self-indexing basis, and where numbers are regarded as essential that a logical arrangement of numbers under a decimal or analogous system should be employed.
4. That no book or card record of incoming or outgoing correspondence should be made except where absolutely essential, and that all bound-book registers of correspondence received and sent should be discontinued.
5. That carbon copies should constitute the record of outgoing correspondence and that press copying should be discontinued.
6. That the employment of the dictation machine for the preparation of correspondence should be widely extended in the Government service.
7. That "window" envelopes should be used whenever possible, in order to eliminate the cost of addressing envelopes, assure accuracy of addressing mail, and facilitate its dispatch.
8. That circulars issued by the Government should be wrapped and mailed by machinery as far as possible, in order to reduce the cost at present sustained by hand methods.
9. That the forms to be filled in on the typewriter should be arranged so as to facilitate the making out and reviewing of them.
10. That the salutation and the complimentary close should be eliminated from "service” correspondence; that is to say, correspondence originating in and addressed to offices of the same department, and that the title below the signature on such correspondence should be omitted and the title of oflicials addressed abbreviated.
A statement of the considerations which guided the commission in reaching the above conclusions, with the detail as to the elements which enter into the estimate of saving of expense, is set forth in this memorandum.
PLAN OF THE INQUIRY.
The problem of devising filing systems which will meet all conditions is not a simple one. There is no ideal way of filing correspondence which can be followed with success in all offices with their diversified business and needs. Methods perfect in one ofiice might be loose for another and too elaborate for a third. The system must be adapted to the conditions of each particular office.
The essential requirements of a filing system, in the approximate order of their importance, may be stated as follows:
(a) Certainty of obtaining a particular paper or of obtaining all the papers relating to a particular subject; and this certainty to be independent of the time that has elapsed since the filing of the paper.
(6) Rapidity of obtaining a particular paper or of obtaining all papers relating to a particular subject; and this rapidity to be only slightly affected by the time which has elapsed since filing.
(c) Rapidity with which documents may be filed.
(1) Reduction to a minimum of the space required for documents.
(g) Miscellaneous minor requirements and desirable features, such as cross references, numbering, etc. At the outset and in pursuance of the general plan of inquiry followed upon other subjects it was decided to ascertain the existing conditions in all offices of the executive departments in respect to the handling and filing of correspondence. The head of each bureau and division of the service was asked, through the Secretary of the department, to report the practices of his office. In order that these reports might be uniform and in such form that they could be readily handled, a list of questions was prepared and distributed February 1, 1911 (circular No. 5). The questions were designed to bring out the existing practices in regard to each step taken in treating a piece of correspondence, from the time it was received in a particular division or section until it left the same or was permanently filed therein.
The questions were divided into groups or classes of processes, so that
(a) Receiving and opening.
(i) Dispatching; and (1) Filing incoming and copies of outgoing correspondence. It will be noted that all of these processes except “preparing” have to do entirely with physical handling and recording. With respect to these it was assumed that the cost would be largely affected by the method of handling and recording, and that comparison of cost, as well as of method, would be useful in helping the commission and departmental committees to arrive at conclusions. As the cost of " preparing” includes dictation as well as typewriting, it was assumed that in the nature of things there must be a very great difference in cost, running from a simple brief “form letter" to a legal opinion or other formidable statement prepared for transmission through the mail.
STUDY OF METHODS IN OUTSIDE CONCERNS.
After the circular of inquiry was issued representatives of the staff of the commission made a study of methods pursued in handling correspondence by railroads and industrial concerns, as well as by branches of the Government services outside of Washington. The results of this study show that the subject is receiving careful attention from managers of large corporations, and its importance is coming to be fully recognized; that the trend is away from the elaborate and in the direction of the simple system; and that vertical flat filing has practically supplanted all other systems.
It appears the main distinction to be made between the average filing system in the Government and those in commercial concerns is that in most branches of the Government too great effort seems to be made to devise a system which will provide against every contingency, no matter how remote. Commercial concerns surround their affairs with proper safeguards, and keep sufficient records of their business transactions to provide against those embarrassments which under a reasonable estimate of probabilities may occur, but they do not waste their time in devising systems so elaborate as to provide against every contingency which might by ingenious conjecture be conceived as possible.
It would seem that if the bureaus and divisions of the Government measure their precautions in the matter of filing correspondence by what appears likely in the usual course of things, they will adopt a reasonable businesslike system, and having done so they will not be subject to just criticism if in a remote case something arises which reasonable foresight could not provide against.