• 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? 

  • on Mar 17th, 2014 in OIG | 2 comments

    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

    So said former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who could be considered a forefather of Sunshine Week. No, not some Spring Break in Florida for government workers, but an annual initiative held the week of James Madison’s birthday to promote open and transparent government. The term “operating in the sunshine” means conducting business in a for-all-to-see way that enlightens and empowers people to play an active role in their government – one of the key elements of a democracy. Sunshine also serves to curb misdeeds or abuse.

    The sunshine concept took many years to evolve. It gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, when news reports of federal abuses and “enemies lists” prompted Congress to pass legislation to open up government to greater public view. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Privacy Act were some of the products of a push for good government.

    Another sunshine initiative was the 1978 Inspector General Act, which created IGs in 12 of the largest federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud and misconduct in agency programs and to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. The law has been amended over the years to increase the number of agencies with IGs to 73, including the Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service in 1996. Right off the bat, we took the concepts of openness and transparency to heart. Shortly after setting up the agency, we launched a website and started publishing reports online. In fact, we’ve posted so many reports on our website that you would have to comb through 143 pages of summaries just to find them all. (Fortunately, we have a search function that makes it easy to find what you want.)

    We created a webpage to notify stakeholders of audit projects before they start so we can gain your insights on those projects. We launched this very blog 5+ years ago to open a dialogue with you on issues affecting the Postal Service. Finally, we have fielded lots of FOIA requests, – formal, written requests for records maintained by the OIG. We handled 36 in FY 1998. Last year, that number topped 600 formal FOIA and Privacy Act requests; more than 4,500 total in our 18-year history.

    At a time when the future direction of the Postal Service is at stake, how government does business is of heightened public interest. (The Postal Service is considered part of the government.) And that is arguably at the root of the sunshine concept. It’s your government; you are entitled to know how it is carrying out its mission.

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