order, ready to place in trays. The system also prints a report listing the number of pieces bound for each carrier route and giving the total cost of the mailing, Hunt said.

Postalsoft was an optional feature in the proposal from Xerox and its partners. After running the new system for some time without it, Treasury added the Firstlogic software in order to save money for two of its internal customers.

Treasury prints and mails child-support payments for the Department of Social Services and unemployment checks for the Virginia Employment Commission - about 3 million checks in all each year. Those agencies require their checks to be printed and mailed in a single day.

"We could not meet that requirement using our Central Mail Services," Reiter said.

That meant the agencies had to forego automated presorting and pay full postal rates. It takes a powerful system to do a USPS presort for a big mailing on a tight schedule. The requirements are complex, according to Farley.

"They're pretty unforgiving in terms of how you give them the mail to be done," he said. "The regulations are strict, and they'll send it back if it's not exactly right."

"Or they'll charge you full postage," Reiter added. The mailer might expect to spend 28 cents per piece, "and if you send something over wrong, you're mailing 50,000 or 100,000 pieces of mail and it's going to cost you 34 cents," she said in an interview conducted before the first-class rate rose to 37 cents on June 30.

At some facilities, the USPS has deployed technology to measure the quality of mail pieces. "And if it's not prepared in the right manner, they may deny certain discounts," said Christopher Lein, senior market manager at Firstlogic in LaCrosse, Wis. Errors that could sabotage a discount include poorly formatted address blocks and unreadable bar codes, he said.

Informative Stubs

Besides making the process more efficient and cutting postage costs, the new system helps Virginia's agencies communicate with citizens more effectively. The new checks provide a larger stub area than the old ones did. Agencies use that space to print messages to recipients.

"Where previously they were having to send out separate documents or letters, they are able now to put that information right on the stub of the check," Reiter said.

The Department of Taxation, for example, uses check stubs to explain to some taxpayers why their tax refunds are smaller than expected. This can happen when a taxpayer owes money to a state agency - for an unpaid fine, for example - and the Department of Taxation deducts that sum from the refund.

In the past, people who received these reduced payments flooded the Taxation Department with questions, Farley said. Now, EDDA has written software to match the check information with corresponding stub information. When a taxpayer receives a reduced refund, the stub explains why and gives the phone number of the agency that can provide further information.

Treasury could gain even more efficiencies if it goes through with a plan to print the addresses of individual agencies on checks mailed to vendors. As a holdover from the days when it stuffed checks in pre-printed envelopes, Treasury uses its own return address on all checks. When a check is returned - often due to an incorrect address - Treasury has to redeposit the payment, Reiter said. The issuing agency then has to research the problem and cut a new check.

In the future, when a check comes back in the mail, it will return directly to the issuing agency, Reiter said. Once the agency corrects the address, it can re-send the original check.

"It should cut down on the number of additional checks we have to process, and it should help get that check to the vendor on a more timely basis," she said.

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer