ANYBODY SEEN ALEX?

By Tom McMenamy, Editor, The Brooklyn Bridge

Behind the office door the telephone rings incessantly. It is an immaculate office that hasn't been occupied by a humanoid in days, perhaps weeks. Custodians peek their heads in through the door, looking for signs of life, paper in the wastebasket, a pen or pencil misplaced on the desk. Who works in this office? Nobody has seen him in weeks. Did he pass away? Maybe we should take up a collection! The ringing of the phone does not go unnoticed, as others hear it in the hallway. Callers are frustrated, how come nobody answers the phone? How do I contact him? Smoke signals?

After thirty-seven years of federal service, Alexander Lazaroff abruptly announced his retirement as Chief Postal Inspector. He was quoted, "It's time for me to begin a new chapter in my life." Postmaster General John E. Potter praised Lazaroff, saying he "has demonstrated a powerful focus on operational excellence and unwavering commitment in this organization." Unfortunately, there is one minor issue with Postmaster Potter's praise. Allegedly, as reported by ABC News and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Chief Inspector Lazaroff had a problem showing up for work on a regular basis!

ABC News initiated an investigation on the whereabouts and work habits of Chief Inspector Alexander Lazaroff due to a series of anonymous letters and leads from his fellow Postal Inspectors. "He lives in Philadelphia, works in Washington and he's never moved," said Senator Grassley. Quite frankly, "how can he do his job as Postal Inspector and the administrator he is, when he is never in his office?" "Is he running his office by remote control?"

Senator Grassley asked the Inspector General's Office to investigate Lazaroff following numerous complaints to his office from Postal Inspectors alleging that Mr. Lazaroff was squandering Postal Service money to arrange travel to resorts and other locations near casinos.

Inspector Lazaroff admitted to Brian Ross of ABC's Nightline that he was in his office only 30 percent of the time. That's a grueling twelve-hour work week! He also told Mr. Ross that his travel budget for the last 2 years was around $100,000 but sources in his own office have indicated that the figure was actually closer to $300,000. He has spent five times the amount his predecessors spent on travel, while curiously cutting his office budget by $2 million dollars. It was implied that he also put pressure on his subordinates to hire his friends as private contractors. Lazaroff has denied these allegations, and pointed out that he only recommended people he knew were qualified for those positions. Out of the postal playbook, Lazaroff has blamed the allegations on "disgruntled employees."

Postmaster Potter and his spokesman Gerry McKiernan were highly supportive of Chief Inspector Lazaroff and sought to downplay the allegations, that is until ABC News got involved. According to McKiernan, an "internal" investigation had already cleared Lazaroff and that the Inspector General's report would find no wrong doing. McKiernan also used the "disgruntled employee" routine to ABC News.

Where there's smoke there is fire. If an internal investigation found no wrong doing, then why did Lazaroff abruptly retire? Those "disgruntled employees" that are being talked about are trained Federal Investigators. When a Postal Inspector says he has proof of wrongdoing, I would tend to believe him! They usually don't make a habit of making things up.

Postmaster Potter should have known better. When your Chief Postal Inspector's face starts to show up on a carton of milk as missing, he's not where he should be! In this case, the spotlight is on Potter's posse and his L'Enfant country club and they don't like it one bit.

The "disgruntled employee" is an employee who goes against the grain of Postal Management. It is a label that is used as a "Get Out Of Jail free card." It is used to instantly destroy the credibility of the whistle blower or simply someone who has an issue that needs to be addressed. It is the universal alibi for everything postal.

The Postal Service claims a "disgruntled employee" turned in Chief Inspector Lazaroff. But what about Lazaroff? Is it acceptable for him to allegedly misuse postal funds or is it unacceptable that he got caught! I believe it is the latter. One of the "good olde boys" got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Potter and his posse are desperately trying to silence the witnesses. You see, Lazaroff is not the first and he certainly will not be the last to make unauthorized withdrawals from the L'Enfant piggy bank.

This is the bureaucratic culture that is killing our livelihood. It is worse than Lehmann Brothers and Bear Stearns. The guise is that there is nothing wrong in Washington and if you question that, there must be something wrong with you! If you don't like what you see, close your eyes! This is the very same behavior that brought down Wall Street.

Postscript: According to the Associated Press, Postmaster John E. Potter is currently under Congressional investigation for allegedly securing "sweetheart" mortgage deals. As first reported this summer by Conde Nast Portfolio magazine, Potter was part of a group of several prominent current and former U.S. Officials who received special discounts from Countrywide Mortgage. Potter's deal allegedly involved one shaved point and waived fees for his $322,700 loan. Our Postmaster General who manages billions of dollars in daily Postal transactions was quoted by Conde Nast, "I did not know I was getting a deal on the loan." As Porky Pig says, "That's all folks."