Watchdog Group: USPS Courts Disaster

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Saying that "Our nation's postal service is headed for a financial train wreck, and postal officials are asleep at the switch," a taxpayer watchdog group called for an independent audit of the U.S. Postal Service this week.


"They need to get their financial house in order," Leslie Paige, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said at a Washington news conference called by the group. "Instead, at the expense of consumers and businesses, postal rates continue to climb while postal managers continue to rack up staggering levels of debt."


Paige referred to a U.S. General Accounting Office report that said despite recent annual rate increases, the USPS is headed for its third consecutive annual deficit. In addition, the GAO said it has placed the postal service on its high-risk list.


Paige also criticized the USPS transformation plan, which the postal service presented to Congress in April and which calls for regulatory and legislative changes that the USPS estimates will generate an additional $5 billion through 2006.


Paige said the plan would let the USPS raise rates faster and focus more on non-mail-related business, all with less regulatory oversight. Instead, Paige said, postal officials should "take a time out, focus on delivering the mail and pull the plug on all non-mail-related ventures."


Responding to the group's call for an audit, the USPS said that its finances are already audited annually by Ernst & Young and that its operations are regularly reviewed by the USPS's inspector general, the General Accounting Office and congressional oversight and appropriations committees.


"The postal service provides more information than any private company," USPS spokeswoman Kristin Krathwohl said.


The citizens group unveiled "commemorative stamps" at the news conference depicting what it said were examples of recent USPS waste and mismanagement. One assailed its senior executives for planning to attend a conference this week at a "luxury resort hotel" in Anchorage.


The USPS said that the Alaska conference is a regular meeting of its board of governors that traditionally rotates among Washington and other cities and that it will be the first meeting in Alaska in years.


At the end of the news conference, CAGW officials affixed the six "stamps" along with the proper postage to an envelope bearing a letter to President Bush. The letter, signed by CAGW and several other consumer and business groups representing millions of members and supporters nationwide, implored Bush to instigate an independent financial audit of the postal service.


CAGW and other groups are making the stamps available online to members and the public at www.cagw.org. The group is encouraging supporters to download the "stamps" from the Internet, and -- after affixing proper postage -- put them on letters to federal officials demanding a postal service audit. The group's Web site also has a sample letter that people can copy and paste and send to officials.


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