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News Briefs; Nov. 19, 2012

Nov. 18, 2012 - 01:14PM   |  
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20,000 postal clerks take a buyout

About 20,000 U.S. Postal Service employees have so far signed up for the agency’s latest early-out offer, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said last week.

The offer, announced early last month, combines a $15,000 buyout with an early retirement package for longer-serving workers. It is open to almost all of the 187,700 clerks, mechanics and other employees represented by the American Postal Workers Union. With two-and-a-half weeks remaining until the Dec. 3 deadline, more could decide to get on board to avoid a wave of mail processing plant closures and consolidations set to take place early next year, Donahoe told reporters in a conference call. Others who have already signed up could decide to drop out.

“It’s kind of a moving number at this point,” he said.

This round of buyouts is the third since May that the Postal Service has offered to select groups of employees as it strives to pare its workforce without layoffs. For those that accept, the Postal Service will pay the money in two installments: $10,000 on May 24, followed by $5,000 in May, 2014.

Earlier this year, some 4,100 postmasters took advantage of a $20,000 buyout deal, while about 3,000 mail handlers accepted a $15,000 offer. From fiscal 2000 through the end of September, the size of the Postal Service’s career workforce has plummeted by almost one-third, from 787,000 to 528,000. This fiscal year, USPS executives expect it to fall to 496,000, according to numbers released Thursday.

In coming transition, SES has big role to play

Senior federal executives got some advice last week on how to better lead the coming transition of political leadership across government.

Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services secretary, and former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe told hundreds of members of the Senior Executive Service that they are the most critical players during transitions, whether for a second presidential term or a change to a new presidential administration.

“The transition that all of you will go through now is in some ways a friendly transition because some people will stay and others will leave, but there will be a core of political appointees who will stay for some time, at least through the transition,” Shalala told the audience at the Interior Department headquarters auditorium Wednesday.

Now president at the University of Miami, Shalala said that when she first took over HHS as secretary in President Clinton’s first term, “I literally ran HHS with the SES for a month,” she said.

Her tips on how executives can be of most help to new political appointees:

• Anticipate what’s next for the new people who are coming in. Understand what directives are coming from the White House and what the president may want them to work on initially.

• Teach incoming political appointees the vocabulary of the department.

• Promote collaboration and integration between career employees and political employees.

• Encourage appointees to meet with members of Congress from both parties and with key committees as soon as possible.

• Narrow the number of things appointees have to worry about by keeping briefing books brief, and help them identify quick turn-around projects and initiatives that will make the department visible.

SEC aided by more than 3,000 whistleblower tips

The Securities and Exchange Commission received more than 3,000 whistleblower tips in fiscal 2012, according to a new report by the agency.

The most common complaints related to corporate financial disclosures and possible fraud, according to the SEC.

The agency said 143 judgments and orders issued during fiscal 2012 can be traced to tips from whistleblowers.

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said the numbers show the whistleblower program was a valuable tool in detecting financial fraud.

“When insiders provide us with high-quality road maps of fraudulent wrongdoing, it reduces the length of time we spend investigating and saves the agency substantial resources,” Schapiro said in a press release.

The agency can reward whistleblowers with up to 30 percent of the money it recovers. SEC paid out its first award of $55,000 in fiscal 2012, according to the report, which was required by 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Postal Service suffers record loss in 2012: $15.9 billion

The U.S. Postal Service suffered a record loss of $15.9 billion in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30.

That compares to a $5.1 billion loss in the previous year.

Seventy percent of that loss — $11.1 billion — was for two large payments to prefund future retirees’ health benefits. By law, the agency is required to make annual payments of roughly $5.5 billion each into the retirees’ health care fund, but the required 2011 installment was delayed by Congress until this year, forcing the Postal Service to make two such payments in 2012. In both cases, the Postal Service defaulted on those payments.

Also hurting the bottom line on paper was $2.4 billon in long-term workers’ compensation charges.

But by one measure, the mail carrier’s finances showed some improvement: Operating losses shrunk from $2.7 billion in 2011 to $2.4 billion last year.

Although the mail carrier hit its $15 billion borrowing limit with the U.S. Treasury in late September, it expects to skirt through the rest of this fiscal year without a cash-flow crunch, Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett told the agency’s board of governors at a meeting last week.

The Postal Service has repeatedly sought congressional relief from the retiree health care prepayments as part of a broader postal reform bill, but without success.

“It’s critical that Congress do its part and pass comprehensive legislation before they adjourn this year to move the Postal Service further down the path toward financial health,” said Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe in a statement released Thursday.

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