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Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2003 / 9 Tishrei, 5764

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

Hang 'Em High | When last heard from, Karla W. Corcoran was being strung up over at the Postal Service.

I don't mean she was actually hanged -- though that might not have been a bad idea. Up until last week, Corcoran was the Postal Service's inspector general and was paid $142,500 a year to root out waste and corruption.

She claims she found plenty of both and also claims to have identified $2.2 billion in potential savings during her term in office.

And had that been all she did, she might still be the inspector general today. But Corcoran was forced to retire last week after a federal investigation found she had abused her authority and wasted public funds.

Where did Corcoran, who was the first inspector general in the Postal Service's history, go wrong? Well, she liked to do really dumb things.

One of the biggest really dumb things she liked were "motivational conferences" where people gather to do exceptionally dumb things under the guise of being really, really smart.

Corcoran held three such conferences at Washington, D.C., hotels and spent $1 million on each of them. As I wrote in May, at one conference, postal employees 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.

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The Postal Service, which is about $12 billion in debt, could apparently afford these things. Heck, it was the inspector general spending money on them!

Some members of Congress took a dim view of these activities, however. 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."

Corcoran denied any wrongdoing and said her critics had their facts wrong. She said she had a "values-oriented" managerial approach, which was symbolized by the acronym "TLC3," and stood 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."

An investigation by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency did not agree there should be more Karla Corcorans in the federal government. And a few weeks ago, the council's integrity committee recommended that "the most severe administrative sanctions available be taken against Ms. Corcoran."

In an interview with The Washington Post, Corcoran "used an expletive to characterize the findings of the council's 274-page report and said she had been made a scapegoat."

"They did not employ people that were familiar with postal operations," she said.

But I am not sure that is a fair criticism. The council may have employed people who were familiar with making tents out of newspapers, donning cat masks and hoisting people around on ropes. Other people were probably experts on sand castles, gingerbread houses or dressing up as the Village People.

There are apparently plenty of people like this in the federal government.

In any case, the council found that Corcoran "followed a pattern and practice of unprofessional conduct, used questionable judgment in areas within her discretion, extravagantly expended USPS funds, and engaged in personnel practices which were either questionable or not in accord with USPS policy."

As I said, Corcoran has now retired and has been replaced with David C. Williams, who has served as inspector general at the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of the Treasury, the Social Security Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

No word yet on whether he prefers sand castles or gingerbread.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate