Postal inspector a post child for mismanagement
May 16, 2003
Next time you’re licking 37-cent stamps, picture the Postal Service inspector general making cat sounds while wrapped in toilet tissue.
That’s right, toilet tissue and cats.
And with your stamp money.
It all started seven years ago, according to the worst story of bizarre bureaucratic behavior I have read, which is saying A LOT. That’s when someone had the brilliant idea to hire an inspector to look into waste at the United States Postal Service.
To date, that inspector and her 725-person staff have spent $117 million to identify $56 million in wasteful spending, according to two senators asking for an investigation.
I wish I were kidding.
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Earlier this month, Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called for the Postal Service Board of Governors to fire its inspector general — whose job is to find and stop wasteful spending — for wasting millions of dollars on her office.
The inspector’s name is Karla Corcoran and they say she’s spent all that money mostly on strange staff retreats, where, according to the senators, “staff were required to dress as the Village People, wear animal costumes, build gingerbread houses, put on cat costumes, do a striptease, and participate in mock trials.”
“This is outrageous behavior,” Dorgan said in a press release posted on his Web site. “When people buy postage stamps they expect that money to be used to move mail, not to be wasted on exercises that have employees dressed in animal costumes.”
Granted, “outrageous” is relative when you’re from North Dakota. In this case, however, I have to agree with the good senator.
I first heard about this scandal while eating chips and salsa with my Wall Street Journal at lunch. You should never, ever read a bureaucratic waste story while eating chips. Three of them got stuck in my throat and I almost had to give myself a tracheotomy with my burrito fork.
When I returned to the office I did a little research and discovered that the New York Daily News was already on top of the story.
“They bark like a pack of dogs, quack like a flock of ducks and hiss like a nest of vipers,” the Daily News story began. “They wrap each other from head to toe in toilet paper and aluminum foil and pipe cleaners. These are professional auditors and investigators who police the United States Postal Service.”
It seems the inspector is big into team building, flying her team of auditors into the capital from 15 field offices around the nation for “annual recognition conferences” that celebrate the organization and its values. The organization designed to track down and kill waste doesn’t seem to find much value in that. In fact, it doesn’t seem to understand the term.
According to the Daily News, “Wrapping people in toilet paper, for instance, displayed teamwork; building sand castles showed creativity; mimicking animals involved conceptualization.”
I know … what’s wrong with that? Nothing, unless you’re spending millions on toilet paper instead of tracking down alleged stamp-licker frauds, or rigged postal machines.
In January 2002 the postal inspector hosted the Fifth Annual Recognition Conference in D.C. where she was blindfolded and tossed into the air on a blanket to illustrate how the sky is the limit if you all work together. The conference cost $1.3 million, which also illustrates that the sky is the limit when you host drunken blanket parties on the stamp buyers’ dime.
Unfortunately for the inspector, there is reportedly videotape of some of the costumed fun and some former employees are blowing the whistle, which means her $147,000-a-year job (complete, I suppose, with benefits and cat costumes) could be in trouble.
There’s a lesson there for all you closet cat dressers. Make sure you ban cameras in the event you later need to deny it under oath before Congress.
Meanwhile, the price of a stamp continues to chase more and more of us to e-mail, where you can sit in the comfort of your home wrapped in toilet paper and communicate with Aunt Martha across the country practically free.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of the Grass Valley Union and former managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
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