Some Serious Paper Shredding at the F-35 Program Office

Detailed contract solicitation for a seemingly simple service might help show why project is over budget.

Paper shredding contracts get lumped in with widgets, gadgets and gizmos on the Federal Business Opportunities website, and over the years a fair number have passed by my eyeballs. (I know, I should get a life.)

I usually don’t pay much attention to shredding solicitations, except to marvel at how many agencies still need such an old fashioned service in the digital age.

The March 28 shredding services procurement from the F-35 Joint Program Office stands out for its detailed and lengthy requirements. It also serves as a metaphor for the flawed, delayed and over-budget project to build 2,500 aircraft for all four military services, which started in 1996 and won’t deliver a combat ready plane until 2019.

Paper or document shredding is a plain vanilla service, far easier than development of a tail hook for the Navy version of the F-35, but the folks at the Joint Program Office put out a 12-page statement of work for such a simple service. The statement starts out with what amounts to an ode to the F-35, touting “cutting-edge technologies” including “advanced airframe, autonomic logistics, avionics, [and] propulsion systems.”

The Joint Program Office then gets down to its shredding requirements for Controlled Unclassified Military Information, which include installation of 31 shredding consoles (sounds high tech, huh?) at three office buildings used by the project in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va.

Every October the F-35 shop engages in a veritable shredding orgy as part of what the statement of work describes as its “annual clean-out week,” and the contractor needs to provide nine, 96 gallon bins to the three F-35 office buildings for that operation.

Since a 96 gallon bin holds 350 pounds of paper, according to the Absolute Document Destruction shredding firm, and a 500 page ream of paper weighs five pounds, this means every October (at least until 2019) the Joint Program Office munches its way through 35,000 pages per bin or a grand total of 315,000 pages for nine bins.

Prospective bidders must prove their shredding bonafides by providing three past performance contracts of similar scope and size for the contract evaluation -- an indication the F-35 folks don’t want to entrust the program’s shredding to some unproven start up outfit.

The Joint Program Office has extremely specific shredding requirements, mandating the output of all those consoles and bins measure 1/2 inch by 1/8 inch. When you’re dealing with high tech aircraft, you have to ensure that everything meets specification -- including shredded paper -- so bidders on the contract must send shred samples to what appears to be a contractor to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, N.J.

I have no idea what this contractor (whose name I left out here) will do with all those paper shred samples, but this solicitation stands out as one small example of why the F-35 costs more than it did to develop the A-bomb.