Falsified mail counts go unpunished

October 05, 1990|By Susan Hansen | Susan Hansen,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- More than a year after federal inspectors found supervisors falsifying mail counts in Baltimore-area post offices to win promotions and justify hundreds of thousands of dollars in unwarranted overtime pay, no disciplinary action has been taken.

And Baltimore postal officials -- unlike those in other cities who have meted out at least a dozen dismissals and demotions in response to similar doctoring of mail delivery figures -- say no punishment of Baltimore-area supervisors is planned.

Mail counts -- which averaged 25 percent to 35 percent higher than inspection service figures at eight audited Baltimore branch offices -- cost taxpayers $820,000 annually in unjustified work time for mail carriers, according to inspection service documents obtained by The Sun through the Freedom of Information Act.

The mail bulk was overstated by more than 50 percent at both the Catonsville and Pikesville stations. Inspectors there counted mail over a period of several days and compared those results with official branch office figures reported during the previous four weeks.

Overall, the 10-week investigation of eight metropolitan Baltimore stations and two associated postal offices in Columbia and Annapolis in 1989 found inflation of delivery figures was so widespread that federal inspectors decided to conduct an internal audit instead of a planned criminal investigation. The reason given was that they needed the cooperation of more postal employees.

"It became evident early on in the investigation that this was much more than just falsification," postal inspectors wrote.

Supervisors acknowledged that volume figures were often based estimates rather than the required actual counts and were inflated, the report said, noting that in some instances higher-level managers were involved in deliberately changing figures.

Accurate figures -- or "carrier-delivered volume" statistics, as they are known officially -- are important because they measure a given post office's productivity and help decide which supervisors deserve high merit evaluations and promotions.

The numbers also help determine the size of postal budgets for the coming year, the inspection service report said, and are often used to justify the number of overtime hours worked.

"It was observed that supervisors had no desire to challenge carriers on overtime requested," the inspectors wrote.

"Volume could be adjusted to cover the hours requested, which made the carriers happy, upper management happy and the supervisor happy," they wrote.

Baltimore postal officials, who received a detailed report on the investigation in late May 1989, said they doubted the accuracy of some inspection service numbers, but conceded that inflated mail counts were a problem.

They emphasized that several corrective steps were taken, but said no area supervisors or managers had been punished as a result of the investigation and that no disciplinary actions were planned.

VJ Ironically, the Baltimore investigation, first reported in the Federal

Times, a weekly newspaper covering the federal government, prompted similar investigations in several city post offices nationwide. To date, at least 11 postal supervisors across the country -- including five in Charlottesville, Va., three in San Jose, Calif., and three in Lexington, Ky. -- have been demoted or dismissed for reporting inflated mail volumes.

Asked why local supervisors had been spared punishment, Baltimore officials said it was because the report on the investigation did not provide the names of individual supervisors involved in falsifying mail counts.

"No. 1, there were no specific individuals cited," said John Newman, the Postal Service's director of city operations for Baltimore. "I could not go out and fire every delivery supervisor in Baltimore."

After the inspection service rejected a formal request for a list of supervisors involved in falsifying mail counts, he said, Baltimore postal officials decided to concentrate instead on taking corrective steps -- including retraining postal supervisors on how to conduct accurate mail counts and creating a new volume-recording team to make spot checks of Baltimore area post offices at least once every three months.

Postal inspectors said their own follow-up inspections have found a 95 percent to 98 percent improvement in mail-count accuracy since the investigation.

"We are very satisfied that they are reporting properly," said Inspector Paul Battaglini.

Inspectors said they could not provide Baltimore postal officials with names because they had given supervisors who provided information anonymity in exchange for their cooperation. Mr. Battaglini said that the inspection service had no position on whether individuals should have been punished for falsifying mail counts. But he dismissed the explanation that no disciplinary action was taken because no specific names were available as "a smoke screen."

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