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Post office inspector general accused of waste

Senators say watchdog blew millions on 'bizarre staff retreats'


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two Democratic senators have called on the Postal Service to fire its inspector general, accusing her of wasting millions of dollars instead of saving money as her job dictates.

In a scathing letter to the chairman of the postal governing board, Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ron Wyden of Oregon said Inspector General Karla Corcoran wasted "millions of dollars" on "bizarre staff retreats." They also said her office spent about two dollars for every dollar in waste it identified.

The senators highlighted a series of retreats at which members of Corcoran's staff were required to pose as members of a 1970s disco group; wear animal costumes; build gingerbread houses; perform stripteases and participate in mock trials.

Corcoran -- who was appointed in 1997 by President Clinton -- released a statement disputing the senators' numbers, defending the retreats and insisting that her office is saving money. Inspectors general act as watchdogs within government agencies, looking out for waste, abuse and fraud.

"I have no plans to resign, and I stand by the performance of my agency, which has identified more than $2.2 billion in savings and cost avoidances to the U.S. Postal Service and ratepayers over the past six years," she wrote.

As for the retreats, Corcoran said such "team-building exercises" are practiced by many Fortune 500 companies "as a way to increase productivity." She said she spent $73,000 on the retreats, not millions, as the senators alleged.

According to the senators, the inspector general's staff of 727 employees spent about $117 million to identify $56 million in wasteful spending.

"This is outrageous behavior," Dorgan 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."

Corcoran's office is under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

She said she is cooperating with Grassley's investigation.

A spokesman for her office said Corcoran "was part of Al Gore's reinventing government initiative, so she does things a little differently."

The two lawmakers, however, said they had been contacted by "whistle-blowers" within the inspector general's office at the Postal Service who said they couldn't believe how money was being wasted.

"We have been contacted by former and current auditors, investigators and other staffers of the IG office, who have told us of IG employees being required to dress up in animal costumes, build gingerbread houses and deliver taped testimonials to the inspector general," the senators wrote in their letter.

Videotapes made during the retreats, the lawmakers said, "support the whistle-blowers' accounts."


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