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Highlights

In October 2001, spores of the deadly bacterium anthrax were found in mail sent to members of the news media and congressional leaders. In all, 22 people were infected with anthrax and 5 people died, including 2 postal workers. The United States Postal Service (Service) took a variety of steps to protect people from biohazards in the mail. For example, the Service began contracting for the irradiation of mail to recipients at the Congress, the White House, and federal agencies with specific ZIP Codes (20201 through 20597) in the Washington, D.C., area (D.C. federal mail). The irradiation process uses either a high-energy electron beam or X-rays to penetrate pieces of mail (mailpieces) and kill harmful organisms, such as anthrax. The Service initially hired two contractors to irradiate the mail, one of which operated between November 2001 and April 2002. The other contractor has been irradiating mail since November 2001. In addition, the Service hired contractors to transport the mail for irradiation and to oversee the current irradiation contractor. Senate Report 110-129, dated July 13, 2007, directed GAO to report on the status of the Service's program for irradiating D.C. federal mail since November 2001. In response to the directive, this report describes: (1) the volume of mail irradiated and how the volume has changed, (2) the cost of irradiating mail and how the cost has changed, and (3) the extent to which irradiation delays mail deliveries and how these delivery delays have changed. In addition, given continuing congressional interest, this report also provides information on the status of an irradiation facility in Washington, D.C.

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