By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006
All summer, federal-dom has been abuzz over a steamy U.S. Postal Service Inspector General's report accusing the agency's former public affairs chief of heavy drinking, expense account chicanery and sexual harassment. But who knew that the subject of the report, Azeezaly S. Jaffer, has spent the season on vacation, courtesy of the Postal Service?
Jaffer's taxpayers' holiday bears witness, a Postal Service spokesman said, "to how hardworking he is."
The June IG report accuses Jaffer, who managed a staff of 160 and a $20 million budget, of, among other things: drinking at a work function until he passed out; running up $8,000 in extra hotel room charges so he could qualify for a suite with a bathtub for two; and following a female colleague into her hotel room, propositioning her, then passing out.
The Postmaster General's office requested the report in mid-2005, after employee complaints about Jaffer's behavior, spokesman Gerry McKiernan said. Eleven days after the IG released its report June 19, Jaffer, who denies the allegations, left the agency "to pursue other career opportunities."
His departure was announced by Postmaster General John E. Potter, who wrote in a memo to officers that Jaffer "served us well during some of the most difficult public relations challenges faced by any organization," including the 2001 anthrax attacks. His efforts, Potter wrote, "were critical to maintaining public and employee confidence in the Postal Service and the mail."
And then, despite the allegations, Jaffer went on two months' paid vacation, which ended Sept. 1. Beyond that, Jaffer's attorney, Matthew Hsu, said, his client is in line for another two months' vacation pay; at his annual salary of $160,000, the four months of vacation pay amounts to more than $50,000.
Jaffer has paid the Postal Service $3,600, mostly for bills run up by his family last year.
Late last week, the Postal Service issued new post-Jaffer expense guidelines. Dinners, they say, should not exceed $50 per person, more frugal than, for example, the $1,066.08 that the IG says Jaffer charged the Postal Service for dinner for three, including 16 drinks.
McKiernan wondered last week why anyone remains interested in this summer's scandal. But Congress aims to keep Jaffer's endless summer warm at least through autumn.
On Friday, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform, and the committee's ranking minority member, Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), sent a letter to Potter requesting a pile of records linked to Jaffer's case. "The Inspector General's report of clearly unacceptable conduct by a senior postal official is troubling to all of us," the letter reads. The Postal Service has until Sept. 28 to respond.
Jaffer spent some of his summer vacation telling his side to Sidley Austin, which recently released a 42-page "white paper" denying the charges against him.
A few excerpts follow:
The IG says: "Jaffer drinks to excess at official Postal Service functions and has done so to the point of unconsciousness on at least two occasions. . . . [Name redacted] . . . recalled going to dinner with Jaffer and others at a restaurant in New York City. . . . Halfway through dinner, Jaffer fell forward, almost hitting his head on his plate, apparently losing consciousness. [Name redacted] escorted Jaffer back to his hotel room."
Sidley Austin says: "The OIG alleges that Mr. Jaffer . . . was refused boarding on flights due to intoxication and that he left his shoes in a hotel lounge due to intoxication. . . . None of these allegations are true. Mr. Jaffer freely acknowledges that he has consumed alcohol at many different Postal Service events and business dinners. However, he has never consumed alcohol to the point of incapacitation or incoherence. . . . Postal Service employees who have worked with Mr. Jaffer . . . have never seen Mr. Jaffer lose consciousness or be carried to his room because he was intoxicated."
The IG says: "[Name redacted] stated that one evening in 2000 while attending the National Postal Forum held in Nashville, Tennessee, Jaffer offered to escort her to her hotel room. She did not realize how intoxicated he was when she accepted his offer. The manager stated that he followed her into her room, tried to touch her, and propositioned her. She could not convince him to leave her room, and Jaffer finally fell asleep on the floor. . . . The next morning Jaffer woke up and immediately left her room. . . . She stated that when Jaffer sees her in the building, he compliments her appearance, tells her he loves her . . ."
Sidley Austin says: "Mr. Jaffer treats female employees of the Postal Service with respect and dignity. . . . Specifically, in 2000 or 2001 at a Postal Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, Mr. Jaffer and [name redacted] shared a brief drink at the hotel bar. . . . He offered to walk her back to her room. . . . When they got to her room, he continued to talk with [name redacted] in her room, and then he eventually fell asleep on the couch. . . . He did not make any explicitly sexual or vulgar remarks to her, nor did he attempt to touch her or make sexual advances toward her."
The IG says: "When asked about the high per-person costs of the meals he hosted at Peking Gourmet Inn, Jaffer stated that they have to be looked at in context. . . . Jaffer stated that, in regard to wine, he considers anything up to $100 a bottle to be "halfway decent and reasonable."
Sidley Austin says: Mr. Jaffer's alcohol purchases were appropriate. . . . His requests for reimbursement were never denied. The Postal Service never cautioned or counseled Mr. Jaffer regarding his alcohol purchases. . . . Mr. Jaffer has acted as someone in his position should -- he has entertained individuals who have benefited or may be in a position to benefit the Postal Service."
Copies of Jaffer's written responses to the Inspector General's report can be found athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/fedpage.