Senator Lankford Challenged US Postal Officials on Allegations USPS Employees Worked on 2016 Campaigns
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today challenged a panel of witnesses during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on violations of the Hatch Act by the United States Postal Service during the 2016 campaign. The hearing entitled, “The Postal Service’s Actions During the 2016 Campaign Season: Implications for the Hatch Act,” focused on an investigation by the Postal Service Inspector General and the Office of Special Counsel in regards to concerns from a letter carrier about practices he witnessed during 2016 election year.
Excerpts from hearing Q&A:
Senator Lankford: Let me run through a series of question to be able to set the context. We have 97 postal employees that took time off, unpaid leave, for them to be able to do political activities, but that caused other postal employees to have to do additional overtime, some involuntary, caused greater costs to the postal service because of that, so the appearance is that it’s an offset. The postal service was assisting in some ways, the political activists, those individuals weren’t receiving compensation. The postal service was having to pay more for those individuals to take on political activities. Correct or not correct?
William Siemer: That’s correct.
Senator Lankford: So, let me ask this question then: According to the OIG report when it came out, postal service support laborer relations manager sent an email out and the email had the names of the individuals, the names were approved by the highest level of USPS management. The endorsed candidates have proven themselves to be in agreement with the objectives to the NALC to hold and strengthen and protect USPS. That really is the nature of what we are doing, since USPS can’t advocate for themselves, they’re allowing us to do it. So, through that email, let me ask a couple of questions. Where did that email take you in the investigation to be able to have an email like that?
William Siemer: So, we talked to the author of that email and he backed off on the assertion of the postal service senior management was involved in selecting the candidates or directly being involved in the political activities. He meant that the postal service had some, he believed, some common interests in having friendly politicians involved in being placed to support postal service priorities.
Senator Lankford: Was there any other tracking of what he meant of ‘highest level of USPS approving this?’
William Siemer: He was not aware of anybody of the highest levels of management being involved in this initiative.
Senator Lankford: So that was just a lie?
William Siemer: Yes.
Senator Lankford: So was there any way to validate that, whether that it’s a lie or if it’s true. Do you have backup? Obviously, he has already put one lie out there. Are there email chains or conversations that are there?
William Siemer: We evaluated all of the emails between senior postal management and we did interviews. There was no evidence to suggest senior postal officials were involved in the selection or identification of either carriers or candidates.
Senator Lankford: Where would he get the impression since the USPS can’t advocate for themselves, they’re allowing us to do it.
William Siemer: I have no idea.
Adam Miles: We talked to the gentleman too and he said the same, he backed off of the core allegations and that email but to put it into context how we would look at it is that he wasn’t in a position to know what USPS you know senior management knew or didn’t know, but I would go back to Mr. Kopp statement, but what that email did is reinforce the perception that existed right because of this leave without pay program that folks sort of in the field and folks at a local level through the USPS management was supporting and enabling this activity. So we have sort of an actual technical violation with the emails that are being sent from headquarters but then we have this perception that goes against what Mr. Kopp was saying, we want the USPS to be operational in an independent non-partisan manner, but when you have folks up and down the chain believing that there’s this institutional bias in favor of certain candidates then we should recommend and take steps backwards to avoid that perception and that’s why I think we are encouraged by the USPS reaction to our recommendations. It’ll alleviate that perception and the actual bias that we found.
Senator Lankford: There’s no question, any individual can vote however they choose to vote. They get engaged in those conversations, they’re American citizens. These are great federal employees, members, and workers, the USPS, there’s no angst there. What I’m trying to figure out is that this has every appearance this is long-standing, but that it was the assumption, of course, we’re going to take down Senate candidates. We don’t have a voice and we don’t like what they’re doing, so why don’t we try to flip the Senate to be able to change the reality of what’s happening there. When they put out a word like this, that’s a pretty clear statement and it looks like a pretty clear perception of what was happening. When you can read even the materials that came out of the union as well, it was pretty clear that it was reinforcing this, and when supervisors get the message, “No, you have to let the people off because they’re working for us,” over doing what we’re doing because the management can’t do it, so we’re going to do it for them. That’s a pretty clear political operation to say this, quite frankly.
Adam Miles: We agree.
William Siemer: The author of that email was not the only postal manager that believes the decision was partisan, there were four other managers in our investigation that told us that they believe the decision to release these carriers, they believed from their perspectives, that they had to be politically motivated, but again, we found no evidence that this was the case, that was just their belief from where they were sitting.
Senator Lankford: Were there any individuals in the investigation that were determined that they asked for leave but they wanted to help the wrong party or the wrong task and so they were not given leave?
William Siemer: No, not that I’m aware of. We didn’t hear from anyone.
Senator Lankford: Good, because if individuals were taken off to get a chance to participate, they should get a chance to participate. The challenge here was clear that there was a direction here that costs the USPS which obviously struggling financially, that’s one of the things we talk about consistently on what to be able to do. We’ve got to be able to resolve that and not have additional burden. Mr. Kopp, stepping up as a whistleblower is an exceptionally difficult thing to do around your peers, and in the task, I appreciate you stepping up to do it. We try to encourage every individual to work through the right process as you did through this. Your response was not to call members of Congress to find out ways to expose all of this, you tried to work through the chain and do it appropriately. I appreciate anyone who wants to do that, and quite frankly, not just about political activities, but about whatever it may be. We all are taxpayers as well as people who serve for the Federal Government. Just about everyone in this room serves for the taxpayer. But we are also taxpayers, so we are all trying to be attentive to that. So, I appreciate any federal employee stepping up.