February 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE POST OFFICE – My next fortune is going to be made selling the U.S. Postal Service “Next Window Please” signs. The employees are working as hard as they can, giving a new meaning the term “going postal.” But there is still a line, which gives me time to consider a new Coast Guard cutter, the Thad Cochran, the scandal that wasn’t, 336 VA hospitals and, of course, this particular post office.

It all has to do with hypocrisy, again. Let’s begin here. Everyone is always beating up on the postal service, and it’s a staple for late night TV comedians. Actually, my postal carrier is the only federal employee I meet regularly, if you don’t count my contact in the Federal Witness Protection Program. And I get very good home delivery service. Maybe I should print up bumper stickers reading: “The Alamo Was Defended By Government Workers,” or: “Men on the Moon – Courtesy of Your U.S. Government” and see if that would cut down on the ridicule.

Congress constantly complains about the cost overruns and debt the USPS endures. Often they have thundered: “The post office should be run like a business!” That’s exactly what the postmaster general is attempting to do. But every time he tries to cut costs (no Saturday service) or streamline operations, Congress says no. Example: Wal-Mart, one of the world’s most successful operations, is closing hundreds of its underperforming branches. The, USPS is trying to do the same, but Congress objects. You don’t have to look farther than Texas. An Inspector General’s audit reviewed 33 of the 114 Postal Service relocation projects identified for three fiscal years – 2011, 2012 and 2013. One was the Southmore Station in Houston’s Third Ward. The neighborhood, aided by U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, protested. That post office will stay open.

Next we have the much-maligned Veterans Affairs Department and its non-scandal. In 2014 it was reported that 44 veterans in the Phoenix area died while on a waiting list to see a VA doctor. The source of this figure was a statement made by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs: “It appears as though there could be as many as 40 veterans whose deaths could be related to delays in care.” That number was seized by grandstanding politicians and radio talk show morons and the figure soon climbed to 44. But the Office of the Inspector General at the VA could find no such victims, although any group investigating itself is suspect. Then the Washington Post went looking for the scandal and found six possible – that’s possible — cases. As the cliché goes, one is too many, but the story was overblown if not false.

This next story is a totally provable scandal: The VA could save $25 million a year if it closed outdated and unused facilities. That’s not from some government watchdog group, it’s from VA Secretary Robert McDonald. He has been pressing Congress for permission to dispose of 10 million square feet of space that the department doesn’t use or need. Among those is a facility in Hot Springs, South Dakota, which once served Civil War veterans of the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam. We must suspect they are no longer on a waiting list. Then there is the former quartermaster’s office in Minneapolis which has been vacant for years and fallen into disrepair. The VA says it has 336 buildings that are vacant or less than half-occupied. That $25 million a year to maintain those properties is money the VA would rather spend hiring 200 registered nurses or pay for nearly 150,000 primary care visits. Why can’t the VA sell these obsolete and decaying structures? An honest answer from Florida Rep. Corrine Brown: “We support closing some of the VA facilities … just as long as you don’t close any in Florida.”

We have a $640-million Coast Guard cutter that was never requested and isn’t needed, but is being built anyway. It seems the U.S. Coast Guard is replacing some of its aging fleet with top-of-the-line 418-feet cutters. The Coast Guard has had five built, and three more are under contract, but as for one more: “The Coast Guard has not identified a need for additional (cutters) at this time,” the CG said. Wrong. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi stuck an earmark in the defense bill allocating funds to build another cutter by Ingalls Shipbuilding at its facility in Pascagoula, Miss. Oddly enough, when Cochran was in a tough re-election campaign he received heaps of campaign funds from – you’ll never guess – Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Mere chump change compared to other scandals. The Department of Defense is no longer a military organization. It is a jobs program. Every time the Pentagon tries to close a base, those guardians of our pocketbook in Congress and elsewhere cry that their dirigible base is all that stands between ISIS and America. Backers of Fort Campbell, Ky. even hired Washington lobbyists to protect their base. The Pentagon operates an enormous real property portfolio with over 562,000 buildings and structures on 523 bases, posts, camps, stations, yards and centers, many unused. The Army and Air Force alone have between 18 percent and 30 percent excess infrastructure, which they would like to get rid of some way. .

When it comes to base closing, Texas – with 20 military facilities — has actually gained thousands of relocated soldiers, and stands to benefit more than most states. That’s traditional – Texas always gets its snout in the trough. Dr. Samuel Smith of the U.S. Army at Camp Charlotte, Texas, on July 4, 1879, wrote, “The whole state of Texas counts on the expenditure of money for Army supplies, and when a Congressman tackles the appropriations bill he joins issue with the whole state from Dan to Beersheba.” As for my own post office, it’s on the chopping block, but wait till the USPS hears from my Congressman.

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