Lawmakers demanding answers over postal conference

by: Scott MacFarlane Updated:

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WASHINGTON - A Georgia congressman is demanding answers from the head of the U.S. Postal Service after an exclusive Channel 2 Action News investigation.

Channel 2's Scott MacFarlane discovered the post office is spending $2.2 million to have 400 executives attend a four-day conference in March at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, including $220,000 for exhibit space at the event.

The Postal Service is dangerously close to insolvency and plans on cancelling most Saturday mail delivery to homes in the coming months.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, fired off a letter to the Postmaster general Tuesday after reading MacFarlane's report.

"The postal service is on the verge of bankruptcy and is cutting services. Clearly, it's not time for dancing and golf in San Francisco. This appears to be an exhibit of extremely poor judgment by USPS leadership," Graves said.

The events scheduled for the conference include a golf outing at San Francisco's Harding Park.

Also on the agenda are a "Taste of San Francisco" dinner event and a dance party.

Among those attending the conference is the postmaster general, Patrick Donahue.

Postal employees have since responded by email to MacFarlane's investigation.

"We could write a book about wasted money," one postal employee wrote.

Other members of congress are reacting too.

Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland said in a statement, "I find it very troubling to see their executives spending such large amounts of money on lavish trips."

"It's silly. It's an unforced error by the US Postal Service. Only in D.C. does this make sense," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina.

A representative for Sen. Sherrod Brown, D- Ohio, sent a statement to MacFarlane saying, "This is cause for serious concern."

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, said the expenses were "wasteful, irresponsible and tone-deaf."

“The agency receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations,” A U.S. Postal Service spokesperson said in response to Gingrey's statement.

MacFarlane learned Tuesday the U.S. House Oversight Committee is now considering a formal hearing into wasteful travel by federal agencies in the wake of his story.

The Postal Service is pushing back at critics, saying it earns more than it spends at the National Postal Forum because it meets face-to-face with potential customers.

At a similar event at an Orlando resort last year, the agency said, it earned $73 for every dollar it spent.

One of the customers at the San Francisco conference, Theresa Peterlein, who runs a consulting company, says face-to-face meetings with postal executives are vital.

"The Postal Service, like everything else, is a changing industry. It's not just mail anymore. It's all the new things the Postal Service is introducing that people can learn about there," Peterlein said.

The Postal Service told MacFarlane its employees will have to pay for their own golf, a $125 registration fee, but the agency will pick up the tab for the travel.

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