Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Washington Post Features

March 25, 2014

Retirees' paperwork, stuck in a mine, points to government's balky IT problems

(Continued)

BOYERS, Pa. —

Then, the paper begins to move. The retiree's agency assembles a paper file of personnel records and ships it off at rush speed.

Most agencies send these files using FedEx, and their packages arrive the next day. The Postal Service, however, ships its own retirees' paperwork by U.S. mail.

Its packages arrive in two days, officials in the mine said.

Nearly all of those packages come here — over the winding roads, into the tunnel and through the door with the American flag.

"You don't forget that it's a cave," said Ashley Weber, a former temp who worked on the mine's incoming files. "But they try to make it look as not-cave-like as you can."

But why is it in a cave at all?

The answer to that question is that, back in 1958, the U.S. government was in the market for storage space. It needed 30,000 square feet to hold personnel files that were being relocated from a building in Washington. Officials looked at buildings in Richmond, Va., and Syracuse, N.Y., before choosing this place, an underground complex where 1,000 workers had once cut limestone to feed the steel mills.

A private company had turned the place into an enormous safe-deposit box: safe from the weather and the Soviets, kept naturally cool as a cave. Today, the complex is owned by the company Iron Mountain, which leases out other caverns to store old Hollywood movie reels and photo archives.

The government moved its old records here in 1960. At first, it was just a file room. Records were shipped to Washington for processing. But over time, the government began to hire more people to work in the mine itself.

They worked hard. And since there were few other office jobs available in this rural area, they tended to stay.

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