Air University Review, January-February 1967
Major James M. Wheeler
Who in the Air Force, or in any of the services for that matter, has not been utterly frustrated by the excessive time it takes a document to travel from one part of an installation to another through distribution channels? Who has not decided, on more than one occasion, it was worth the time to hand-carry a document rather than wait until it finally wended its way through distribution? What person, having observed the manual shuffling and sorting of paperwork in a distribution center, has not marveled that any of it got to its proper destination? If you nodded affirmatively to any of these questions, then welcome to the club—it has a large membership.
The slow paperwork processing system that we live with in the Air Force constitutes a dilemma to everyone, even the administrators who are its prime operators. It is cumbersome, error-prone, wasteful of manpower, and unresponsive to real-time needs for information transfer. Actually, the system is little changed from ancient times. It is a manual system—“in one box and out another”—whose speed is largely dependent on the working whims of individuals. The system is riddled with stop points where paperwork rests in one location for several hours awaiting the next pickup. And for some strange reason, people seldom get excited to do anything to better the situation.
Although this description may sound harsh, it is only too accurate. However, may purpose here is not to condemn the system for its shortcomings. Rather, it is to examine possible methods of rectifying them. Fortunately, as this article will demonstrate, a number of such methods are available.
To its credit, the Directorate of Administrative Services, Headquarters United States Air Force, has introduced a number of refinements to the manual system of processing in the past fifteen years, some of which have made a significant contribution to improving the speed of paperwork processing. The official histories of that office reflect these more important refinements:
· 1953 — The
dimensions of standard-sized and legal-sized paper were specified, to increase
the ease of handling.
· 1957 — Postage stamps were no longer required to be affixed to mailing material.
The phrase “FOR THE COMMANDER” Was adopted for all correspondence requiring an authority line.
· 1959 — Air
Force Regulation 11-14, “Recording and Controlling Written Communications,”
stressed a “source-to-user” concept for paperwork, replacing
the more roundabout “command channel” concept. —Preparation of receipts
for most CONFIDENTIAL documents was eliminated. A revised edition of Air
Force Manual 10-1, Preparation of Written Communications, introduced a single
format for all letters and intraheadquarters memorandums. — AFM 11-4, Directory
of Addresses, introduced a simplified format of addresses on correspondence.
· 1960 — AFM
10-1 was revised to allow a reply to be handwritten on a letter and returned to
the sender. — A multiple-address letter was sent to Directors of Administrative
Services at all major air commands offering suggestions for speeding the
delivery of messages from writer to reader and urging that they seek more
efficient processing procedures for both incoming and outgoing messages.
· 1964 — AFM
10-2, Management, Use, and Preparation of Air Force Messages, was
revised and expanded, incorporating instructions contained previously in other
· 1965 — AFM 10-1, Preparing and Processing Written Communications, was revised, incorporating material from two other publications.
Despite improvements made by the Air Force Directorate of Administrative Services, the paperwork processing system is still plagued with the inherent deficiencies of a manual system. The deficiencies constitute time-consuming roadblocks that seriously impede the flow of paperwork. The first two such roadblocks are the frequency and means of delivery. These are usually the most time-consuming aspects of paperwork processing because they represent the time periods when paperwork is either being delivered or is in an inert status awaiting pickup. It is axiomatic that the more frequently pickups and deliveries are made, the faster the paperwork is processed. Yet this obvious fact is given all too little attention by most Air Force units. Emphasis on frequency and means of delivery is also conspicuously absent in our Air Force manuals and regulations. Until greater emphasis is given to the need for more frequent pickup and delivery of mail and messages and to the means of delivery, the need is likely to continue.
frequency of delivery
Greater frequency in pickup and delivery of paperwork is a problem that good management and scheduling can best solve. Were it my responsibility to set an Air Force-wide standard, I would require that at least one pickup and delivery per hour be made from mail and message distribution centers in an organization. For some staff agencies in larger units, even more frequent trips to distribution centers would be warranted. The Directorate of Administrative Services, Hq USAF, learned this in 1961, as witness an extract from its official history:
Prior to 1 January 1961 the Air Force Mail Center
made only four mail deliveries and pickups per day to Air Staff offices located
in the Pentagon. This service was inadequate. . . .Through better management
and control, we are now averaging six trips per day. . . decreasing the transit
time of this mail as much as two to four hours. Within the next month the
One aspect of the problem is that Air Force people, for the most part, have not been conditioned to expect a rapid flow of paperwork, especially intrabase or intraunit. Most units and staff agencies content themselves with about four trips daily. Six to eight trips a day is certainly the exception. Lack of sufficient clerical personnel to make more frequent pickups and deliveries is the most commonly heard explanation, but not the only one.
One way to improve the speed of processing would be for a unit to have one or more members of the distribution center report to work before normal duty hours start. They would pick up all messages from the base communications center (and mail from the local post office when possible); sort, process, and route the material; and place it in distribution boxes ready for pickup by staff agencies prior to the beginning of duty hours. Designated persons from the staff offices of the organization would report to work fifteen to thirty minutes early so they could pick up, process, and route the mail and messages for intraoffice purposes. Thus, when the regular work force arrived, messages and correspondence would be ready for their review and action.
means of delivery
“Means of delivery” refers to the methods, devices, and equipment used to transport paperwork from one location to another. At present there are relatively efficient means of delivery from one base to another. Especially noteworthy is the Automatic Digital Network (AUTODIN), which is the primary network for electrical message transmission. AUTODIN is certainly responsive to the need for rapid delivery of information, and further development of communications satellites is expected to increase this capability even more. The problem is that AUTODIN terminates at the base communications center. From that point, manual means of delivery is usually employed. Some units have had “pony” circuits installed connecting them with the base communications center, but these units are the exception. Air Force policy discourages installing such circuits because of their cost.2 Pneumatic tubes have sometimes been constructed between a unit’s message distribution center and the base communications center to allow rapid message delivery. This, too, is the exception, and again cost is the usual inhibiting factor. When pony circuits and pneumatic tubes are not available, personnel acting as couriers perform the delivery. The cost of these human couriers is not as easy to tabulate as that of the hardware delivery systems, and they do not have to compete with other base installation and engineering projects. As a result, we perpetuate manual methods of delivering intrabase messages and correspondence.
It is quite possible that automated equipment could be obtained if administrators made a more determined effort to acquire it. This is usually difficult to do, primarily because administrative functions usually hold a low priority and administrative personnel are usually among the lowest-ranking members of a unit’s staff. Another reason administrators are not inclined to make a strong effort to obtain automated systems is their lack of orientation towards automation. Since administrators usually inherit a manual delivery system from a predecessor and have always worked with manual systems in the past, they tend to remain manually oriented. I observed an interesting departure from manual orientation at the Air Force Academy. Persons assigned responsibility for operation of the base supply activity looked over the plans for their quarter-mile-long building and specified that they needed a pneumatic tube system for intrabuilding paperwork distribution. As a result a pneumatic tube system was installed, which has proved to be highly useful for rapid paperwork processing and delivery. On the other hand, in the main administrative building and in adjacent buildings in the cadet area, which housed the superintendent and key staff, no provisions were made for a pneumatic tube system. There manually pushed distribution carts and couriers provide the means of delivering paperwork. I do not mean to infer that the administrators at the Academy were remiss in not obtaining a pneumatic tube system as their supply brethren did; that would be unfair. But this example does point up a difference in orientation towards automated equipment by these two groups and also shows what can be obtained in the way of automated equipment with a little determined effort.
Another major roadblock to rapid paperwork processing is the coordination or staffing process. This is the common procedure of circulating outgoing letters and messages through other offices and staff directorates for their coordination and approval prior to dispatch. Although considered essential by most units, the coordination process is usually excessively time consuming. This is true even when communications are hand-carried through the coordination process.
In 1962 a study of Army paperwork processing procedures was made by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.3 The study revealed that it took an average of 8.5 hours to coordinate and process an outgoing message and 15.5 hours for an outgoing item of correspondence. Significantly, the study also revealed that over 92 percent of all the outgoing communications were not changed during the coordination process. In those that were changed, over half the changes were considered nonessential. Only 3.4 percent needed essential changes.
The Franklin Institute study proposed a remedy for the slow processing of paperwork caused by the coordination process. The proposal was to dispatch the original copy of the outgoing communication direct from the office having authority to release the communication to a transmission agency for mail or electrical dispatch. Coordination would be accomplished by ex post facto review of copies distributed by the preparing office. In the few cases requiring essential changes, a follow-up message could be sent. Likewise, incoming messages would be sent direct to the action office indicated in the address element, and information copies forwarded to other interested agencies.
The Franklin Institute study pointed out another roadblock to rapid paperwork processing: the organizational arrangement in the Air Force (and the Army, but not in the Navy) whereby administrative services are responsible for processing and mail services, and communications services are responsible for the electrical transmission of messages. This division of responsibility impedes rapid processing by causing the duplication of record keeping, handling, and delivery. The remedy suggested by the Franklin Institute is to establish a single agency on an installation to accomplish all interbase transmission actions. This transmission agency, called the Unified Transmission Management (UTM) in the study, would control both electrical communications and mail facilities. Units and staff activities serviced by the UTM would be required to prepare communications in a single format. On receipt of the action copy, the UTM would scan its contents to determine its importance (precedence), check the electrical transmission networks to determine saturation, and then select either mail or electrical means as the medium of transmission.
These and other recommendations of the Franklin Institute study have interesting possibilities for speeding paperwork processing, but unfortunately neither the Army nor the Air Force has tested the concepts and they remain untried proposals.4
Other roadblocks to rapid paperwork processing include such matters as preparing classified document receipt forms (AF Form 310); reproduction of letters, messages, and other documents, which often holds up paperwork several days; distance of units and offices from mail facilities, message centers, communications centers, and similar distribution activities; number of addressees; length of communication; selection of the proper action office and the offices requiring information copies; and other similar matters. All of them play a significant role in paperwork processing, and all are time-consuming activities.
automation the answer
One fact should be rather obvious at this point: manual methods of paperwork processing have very limited capabilities for providing rapid service. Radical improvements in speed of processing can be achieved only by automating the process. Other agencies of the Air Force and the government have realized the need for and value of automation. Personnel has automated record keeping; supply agencies are able to do business on a worldwide basis using automation; electrical communications processing and transmission are largely automated; pay, reports control, and other comptroller activities depend on automation; missiles are launched with automated equipment; and even aerial warfare takes advantage of automation to perform intercepts and bomb runs. The list of activities using automated systems and devices is almost endless. Yet administrative activities are still almost wholly dependent on manual methods and procedures.
A number of commercially produced devices offer potential for use in paperwork processing. For example, several companies manufacture an electronic device designed to transmit handwritten messages instantly from one location to one or more other locations by use of a wiring circuit. The message is written with a metal stylus on the transcribing machine and is recorded at the receiving location on a paper roll or special form. This system offers the advantage of high-speed delivery of written communications, provides a permanent record, eliminates work interruption since receivers can be left unattended, allows two-way communication, and reduces the need for a pickup and delivery service. Civilian concerns are using the device, and Air Force ground-controlled approach units use it as a medium of communication between equipment components.
Another type of device with potential for speeding paperwork processing is facsimile. As one example, Western Union Telegraph Company offers two facsimile services. One is called Desk-Fax, a facsimile machine on the desk of a subscriber that gives him direct connection to the nearest telegraph office. This device makes it possible to send and receive telegrams in picture form. A second service, called Intrafax, is a two-way facsimile communications system that enables subscribers to transmit letters, pictures, charts, and similar material and have them exactly reproduced at a distant receiving point. Similar services are available from a number of other companies that use telephone lines for facsimile transmission. Facsimile systems are being used by the U.S. Weather Bureau, Air Force Weather Service, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and many other public and private organizations.
With these devices speed of paperwork processing is principally aided by a direct sender-to-receiver procedure, thus bypassing the manual processing points. This method is one way of expediting processing, although it would have only limited application in the Air Force. A more practical approach to Air Force needs is to automate processing in distribution centers. Fortunately, development and testing of systems that perform this task are currently taking place. Two such developments are worthy of discussion.
Automatic Message Processing System. The first is a practical test of
a futuristic communications processing system presently being conducted at the
National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the
The Automatic Message Processing System allows completely automatic handling from the time a message initially enters the system until it arrives at the point of final delivery. Incoming messages are routed automatically to all internal addressees of a headquarters, provided internal routing instructions are included in the message by the originator. When routing instructions are not included, the message is sent to one of several operators stationed at message display consoles. A console operator can view the message, displayed on a cathode-ray tube, and determine from its contents who the action and information addressees should be. By depressing keys on the console, the operator can indicate on the message the routing instructions and other annotations desired. After this action, the message is released from the console and returned to the system for automatic distribution. Messages that had internal distribution instructions and were automatically distributed are given ex post facto review by console operators to check the correctness and completeness of the distribution. If changes are required, the console operator makes additional distribution or advises an office if a message was erroneously dispatched to it.
Outgoing messages are also automatically processed. When a message is typed on a DD Form 173, Joint Messageform, by the originator, it is simultaneously transmitted to the AMPS and stored. When the AMPS recognizes the electrical signature of an authorized releasing authority, the message is automatically converted to an electrical communications format and dispatched.
Other features of the AMPS include a capability for message file and retrieval, message edit by console operators, intercept of messages not prepared in the proper format, maintenance of accountability for classified messages, compilation of a variety of statistical data concerning the operation of the system, and extremely high dependability—only a fraction of an hour of downtime per year. The system also has the capability of accepting messages from an optical scanning device in lieu of a typewriter. Needless to say, AMPS is a major step towards reducing message processing time.
On Base Data Processing and Distribution System. A second development to automate processing procedures is a promising effort initiated by Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC). On 1 July 1964 AFLC submitted a proposal to Headquarters USAF to develop an On Base Data Processing and Distribution System (OBDDS) that would use data-processing procedures to reduce the manual processing and delivery of intrabase data. AFLC reported in its initial proposal that studies had revealed that duplicate orders and lost data records were inevitably traced to clerical and administrative errors in manual processing. The OBDDS proposal would eliminate manual processing by having a data system interfaced with the common user system of the base (AUTODIN) that would accept incoming messages and, by examining the routing information within the message, process the message to all on-base addressees. The system would also provide an intrabase routing and transmission service for all data generated by base activities. In its ultimate configuration, the OBDDS was expected to be able to process and transmit all types of administrative traffic, such as forms, letters, memorandums, and similar paperwork, both interbase and intrabase. The study was vague as to how the latter type of traffic would be carried, but it was optimistic that no insurmountable problems would develop.
This proposal has received Air Force approval for study, and Air Force Communications Service has been working jointly with AFLC on the system. If On Base Data Processing and Distribution System is given final approval for development, it could be expected to be operational on AFLC bases sometime in the early 1970’s. 6
These two examples give a glimpse of the potential improvements that automation can contribute to paperwork processing. The AMPS tests and the feasibility studies of OBDDS indicate that high-speed ultrasophisticated processing is well within the bounds of today’s technology. There appears to be considerable promise that paperwork processing can and will ultimately be automated and improved to the extent that it will no longer be considered the major impediment to speed of communications.
One final matter deserves mention, and that is the cost of obtaining automated processing systems. There is no denying that automated processing devices will be costly to procure, just as other automated systems used in the Air Force have been. AUTODIN, for example, is an expensive system. In fact, the principal complaint heard by the Defense Communications Agency concerning this system is its high cost. Officials of DCA are actively negotiating to reduce AUTODIN charges.7 It is important to note, however, that the military is still willing to pay a large fee to obtain the advantages offered by a real-time transmission system. This is because the cost, even though high, is not unreasonable in relation to the need and the increased efficiency. This same rationale, therefore, makes it inconceivable that the real-time benefits provided by AUTODIN would be allowed to expire at the base communications center when comparatively modest additions to the system would allow the real-time advantage to be extended over the entire communications path, i.e., from the originator to the ultimate recipient.
Only one conclusion can be drawn from this presentation: there is a clear need for imaginative, practical, and energetic actions to radically update and improve paperwork processing procedures so that this phase of the communications chain will be as responsive to the need for real time as is the transmission phase of the chain. This cannot be accomplished by further refinements to the present manual systems; it must encompass dramatic breakthroughs that make optimum use of automation and new concepts in communications. Hopefully, rapid progress will be made to realize these improvements and thereby remove the primary cause of the paperwork processing dilemma.
Hq United States Air Force
This article is based on a thesis prepared by Major Wheeler as part of his academic work at the Air Command and
, Class of 1966. Staff College
1. History of the Directorate of Administrative Services, 1 January 1961
to 30 June 1961 (
2. Air Force Manual 100-21, Management and Use of USAF Communications (Washington: Department of the Air Force, 20 November 1964, as amended), paragraph 2112.5e.
3. Joel N. Bloom, Clifton E. Mayfield, and Richard M. Williams, Modern Army Communication, Final Report of an Operation’s Research Study of Army Communications (Philadelphia: The Franklin Institute, 1962).
4. This fact was confirmed by the Directorate of Communications, Department of the Army, Washington, which is the office that initiated the study.
5. Technical System Plan for Phase II Automatic Message Processing System (AMPS) (U) (Washington: Department of Defense, Defense Communications Agency, 26 October 1965).
6. “Feasibility Study of the On Base Data Processing and Distribution System Concept,” prepared jointly by Air Force Logistics Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and Air Force Communications Service, Scott AFB, Illinois, with forwarding letter to Hq USAF (AFAAC), subject: “On Base Data Processing and Distribution System (OBDDS),” 22 Oct 1965.
7. Colonel Lee M. Paschall, USAF, “AUTODIN and AUTOVON: Management and Implementation,” Signal, March 1966, pp. 29-30.
Major James M. Wheeler (B.Ed.,
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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