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Jewish World Review May 29, 2003 / 27 Iyar, 5763

Roger Simon

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Should we be the ones going postal? | WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most workers have a fantasy about stringing up their bosses, but over at the U.S. Postal Service they actually did it.

At one of those "motivational" conferences where people do really stupid things and pretend they have vast significance, postal workers hoisted their boss, Karla W. Corcoran, the Postal Service's inspector general, "on a web of ropes."

That's the good news. The bad news is that they let her back down again.

Corcoran, who is supposed to be saving the postal service money by rooting out waste and corruption, sponsored the conference at a reported cost of $553,257.

According to The Washington Post, postal employees gathered at a Washington hotel and took part in activities that included "making tents out of newspapers, donning cat masks and hoisting Corcoran on a web of ropes."

According to ABC News, other activities by postal employees included the building of sand castles and gingerbread houses. "On other occasions, they dressed up as the Village People or wore cat costumes," according to the network.

Corcoran says the conference didn't really cost all that much money and, in fact, she spent only $775 per employee.

Which is one of the problems with the Postal Service, which last I looked was $12 billion in debt.

When you begin viewing spending $775 per employee to make gingerbread houses, don cat costumes and hoist people on ropes as "only," then you could be in real trouble.

Which is what some members of Congress are now saying.

Calling for Corcoran to be fired, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., said, "When people buy postage stamps they expect that money to be used to move the mail, not to be wasted on (exercises) that have employees dressed in animal costumes."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined Dorgan in a letter that said, "Corcoran seems to have been too busy wasting her own agency's resources to have been much of a watchdog for the Postal Service."

The two senators said that although Corcoran's budget was $117 million in 2001, she uncovered only $56 million in waste that year.

Which is a little unfair. After all, the "feel good" vibes that her employees got from dressing up like the Village People must be worth at least $61 million, which would bring Corcoran to the break-even point.

Corcoran denies any wrongdoing, says her critics have their facts wrong and says she will not resign, though she will not seek another term when her seven-year appointment expires in January of next year.

"We've done a lot of things very, very differently," said Corcoran, showing a certain flair for understatement.

Corcoran's real problem -- aside from how she looks dressed up like a cat -- may be that she has gotten on the wrong side of Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Grassley, who is investigating Corcoran, said he is following up on "troubling disclosures" about Corcoran's management. If the inspector general's office is "inappropriately run, I worry about its ability to find waste at the Postal Service and to help that organization run efficiently," Grassley said.

The real problem may be a clash of cultures, however.

Some people believe that when you pay an inspector general $142,500 a year to root out waste and corruption, the inspector general will spend her time rooting out waste and corruption.

But Corcoran has a "values-oriented" managerial approach, which is symbolized by the acronym "TLC3," and stands for "teamwork, leadership, creativity, communication and conceptualization." That is what all the gingerbread houses, cat masks and Village People stuff were about.

"One of the things we had to do was a puzzle where you had to take the 'TLC3' rocket to the 'Values Galaxy,'" one former employee said. "People were frustrated. They couldn't get their work done."

Said Corcoran: "I truly believe government needs more people like me. They need people who are willing to try things differently."

A Grassley aide said: "We don't mind different. We just mind different in the sense that it detracts from what you are supposed to be doing."

As I said, a clash of cultures.

But before you judge Corcoran too harshly, walk a mile in her shoes. (Even though her shoes may have been hoisted to the ceiling.)

After all, maybe you would do your job a lot better if you were dressed as a member of the Village People.

And instead of pointing fingers of blame, why don't we all try it for a week?

Dibs on the Indian chief.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate