• on Dec 22nd, 2014 in OIG | 1 comment

     

    Pushing the Envelope wishes our readers a joyful holiday season and a prosperous new year. We will take a break this week, but we encourage you to read over the past year’s blogs and let us know what you think on any of the wide range of topics we covered in 2014. We post comments as they come in, even if you comment on a blog that ran years ago.

    On January 5 we will share our annual list of the Top 10 Postal Stories of the Year – one of our most popular blogs. As always, we look forward to your comments and insights. 

  • on Oct 20th, 2014 in OIG | 15 comments

    As we celebrate our sixth year of blogging, you might think we’ve covered it all. Surely we’ve hit on every postal topic and angle there is, right? Well apparently not. We have a backlog of issues we want to share and people keep giving us excellent insights and feedback.

    Over the years we’ve noticed that, every once in a while, one of our blogs really strikes a chord with our stakeholders. This past year, we had a few of those moments. The first was our blog on the Harry Potter stamp (Will Harry Potter Cast a Spell on Young Stamp Collectors?). We knew the stamp’s release was controversial. But 226 comments? And more than 57,000 views? Stakeholders care a lot about postage stamps, and social media let them express their sentiments. Other blogs that generated heavy commentary were Network Consolidation Reboot (with a record-setting poll response of over 3,700) and The Road to a New Delivery Fleet, with many of the comments coming from current or retired postal workers. This reinforced one of our earliest blogging insights: Postal workers are passionate about the Postal Service, and they have a lot of good ideas to share.

    However, comments alone don’t measure a blog’s impact. Readership is another good indicator of whether a blog topic resonates with stakeholders. We were surprised to discover that sometimes the blogs with the fewest comments actually got the most views. Our blog asking about the role of a chief innovation officer (The Innovation Unit Dilemma) topped more than 23,000 reads, as did our blogs on the Postal Service’s deal with Amazon to deliver on Sundays (No More Day of Rest for Postal Package Delivery) and on same-day delivery (If You Build It, They Will Come. Maybe)

    Finally, we are finding that the blog isn’t the only place where the action is. Facebook and Twitter continue to see a lot of activity. For example, our blog on the Social Security Administration’s return to paper statements lit up on Facebook even though it generated only a handful of blog comments.

    We mention all of this not to toot our own horn, but to remind stakeholders that this blog serves as an important tool to engage with you on issues that affect the Postal Service. Your input matters to us and informs our work. As we toast our 6-year anniversary, we hope you will continue to share your insights, ideas, issues, and concerns.

    What topics would you like to see covered in a blog? 

  • on Aug 25th, 2014 in OIG | 1 comment

    About 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created in the past 2 years alone, according to IBM. Yes, we live in the era of Big Data.

    Data is vital to our work as an OIG. We use data analytics – including data mining, risk assessment models, and predictive analytics – to help focus our audits and investigations on high-risk areas of the U.S. Postal Service that yield the largest financial impact and/or efficiency improvements. For our organization, data analytics is a game-changer. Using a single data interface, investigators no longer have to comb through different programs and network folders, saving considerable time. Our predictive model lets us identify cases involving a high probability of fraud, before beginning an investigation.

    While the data game is rapidly evolving, federal laws governing data use have moved at a slower pace. The recently enacted DATA Act provides a powerful weapon in combatting fraud and waste in government by standardizing and opening up federal spending information for all to see. But agencies still face bottlenecks in uncovering fraud and abuse. Notably, the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 – written before Big Data and intended as an extension of the Privacy Act – added procedural steps that agencies must follow when matching federal, state, and local electronic databases.

    Say an agency wanted to check its payroll data against the Department of Labor’s (DOL) workers’ compensation records to determine if an individual is collecting both a paycheck and a workers’ compensation check. Under the 1988 law, the requesting agency would need to draft a formal matching agreement to be reviewed by the data integrity boards at both the requesting and responding agencies (in this example, DOL). The complicated process can take 6 months or more, during which time fraud can continue.

    The Computer Matching Act was passed at a time when people were unfamiliar with computers and worried about their privacy. Privacy is still a major concern, but is privacy protection inadvertently skewed in favor of criminals? Data analytics allows investigators to root out fraud and abuse early and find those responsible before they can make a long-term habit of it. But the most effective uses of data analytics are often obstructed with administrative hurdles.

    What is the right balance between protecting federal employees’ privacy and equipping agencies to quickly detect fraud and abuse? If you accept money from the government – such as a paycheck, disability check, grant award, or contractor payment – should you expect more scrutiny? Would you be willing to share your data to help combat fraud? Or is an overabundance of protection necessary in this age of Big Data? 

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