We’ve all used the phrase “buried under paperwork” sometime during our careers, but this was not just a figure of speech at a Veterans Affairs regional office this summer.
Overflowing filing cabinets, stacked with claims folders two-feet high, caused floors to bow under their weight, threatening to “compromise the integrity of the building,” according to the VA Office of the Inspector General.
The inspectors’ report on the Winston-Salem VA Regional Office will someday serve as a textbook example of the need for savvy and efficient document management and storage in large organizations.
After VA staff filled filing cabinets to the bursting point on the 6th floor of the building, they proceeded to stack approximately 37,000 claims folders, many as thick as a phone book, on top of the cabinets.
The precarious paperwork mountain threatened the safety of VA workers: “In 2011, one employee experienced a minor shoulder injury when claims folders fell on him from the top of a filing cabinet,” the report’s authors wrote.
The Inspector General’s office also noted boxes of files blocked exits, creating a safety hazard, and files were stacked all the way up to fire sprinklers, putting them at risk for water damage. In a June 11, memo, the inspectors advised the Veterans Benefits Administration to immediately find a solution to these problems, including conducting a load-bearing study to find out if the building’s floors were capable of supporting the weight of all those files.
To their credit, the VBA took the recommendations to heart and found some short-term and long-term storage space for the files. They also consulted with an engineer, who determined that there “was never any danger of the floor collapsing.”
In the VBA’s proposed solution, there is no mention of scanning the paperwork and digitizing it, perhaps because that is a Herculean task outside the scope of the current problem, which is long-term storage of physical files.
Again turning to the “textbook example” analogy, the woes of the Winston-Salem Regional Office could serve as a problem-solving lesson for students of business process re-engineering and Enterprise Content Management (pdf file): How did the management of paperwork reach such a crisis level, and what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future?
Picture credit: VA Office of Inspector General (VOIG)