GAO Misses the Mark

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(This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Sue Carney, Director Human Relations Dept

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presented a 46-page report on the Postal Service’s National Reassessment Process (NRP) to Congress recently, but failed to address many glaring problems, including many issues raised by APWU representatives.

As evidenced by the report, the GAO fails to fully grasp the NRP, and apparently has been duped by the Postal Service regarding the program’s intentions and value. The GAO simply doesn’t seem to understand the unnecessary employee hardships being caused by the program. The GAO appears to be more concerned about substantiating its previously stated position that postal employees’ compensation and benefits should be reduced than it is about the cost of discriminating against injured workers.

While the GAO is busy pointing its finger at injured workers as a significant cause of the Postal Service’s fiscal woes, it ignores the fact that these workers were injured while performing a public service and are protected by law: Their rights and benefits do not vanish because the USPS finds itself in a “terrible economic crunch.”

Nor do these workers have a misguided “sense of entitlement to modified work assignments,” as the GAO reports. Employing agencies are required to make every effort to find medically suitable work for these employees, even if that means being creative. The employees merely want what they are entitled to and deserve.

At What Cost?

Allegedly, the NRP has saved the USPS $146 million, yet postal officials refuse to disclose the cost of conducting the NRP. One can only speculate that their lack of transparency obscures costs that far outweigh the program’s value. Conveniently, the GAO also ignored the Postal Service’s blatant disregard for numerous federal regulations and its countless Collective Bargaining Agreement violations, all of which are likely to diminish any cost savings the program may have achieved. The GAO should have recommended a moratorium on the program, at least until the USPS can justify its NRP expenditures.

The GAO should recognize that the USPS is attempting to reduce costs on the backs of injured workers, who are often capable of performing many tasks that remain available.

Additionally, the GAO failed to understand that the reason so many postal workers retired recently was because they were given incentives, not because of the NRP. Nor do they comprehend that employees wouldn’t forfeit their benefits by resigning unless they felt overwhelmingly harassed.

The GAO further misleads Congress by stating that employees receive wage loss compensation when suitable work is not found for them; but the reality is there are several reasons injured workers in these circumstances would be ineligible for the OWCP benefit and they merited more detail in the report. To dismiss them as “administrative” matters is disingenuous on the part of the GAO.

For example, if an employee fails to reaffirm that their disability is residual to a previously approved workplace injury, even when medical documentation shows it’s permanent, they won’t receive compensation. In other instances, employees enrolled in the OWCP vocational-rehabilitation program could also suffer a reduction or elimination of compensation when they are unsuccessful in procuring alternative employment.

Additionally, postal officials are refusing to advise OWCP that the job offers they are withdrawing are not “regular” positions. Admitting this would mean formal wage earning capacity decisions were erroneous and would therefore increase compensation payments and the number of employees entitled to them.

And, of course, the loss of compensation could also result in loss of health benefits and life insurance. Although all of these actions may be generating the illusion of savings for the USPS, they are creating a tremendous hardship for employees and their families.

Rather than making recommendations to expedite another costly, ineffective program, the GAO should have recommended that NRP monies be dedicated to implementing better safety measures. The GAO’s sympathy for the Postal Service’s financial plight prevented it from issuing a comprehensive and unbiased report; instead, the GAO has turned a blind eye to the USPS’ reckless efforts to squirm out of its chargeback liability obligations. Clearly the GAO has missed the mark.

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