Last week, we noted Bob Hale's attempt to cash a $25 postal money order at the Waldorf Post Office.
Bob was told to come back later in the day when there might be some money in the till.
Since that column appeared, I have received two letters of special interest. Both were signed by postal employees who asked for anonymity and I will honor both requests, of course.
The first letter says: "Free speech sounds good, but working conditions are tense here. Don't use my name.
"The reason we can't cash money orders first thing in the morning is that we aren't allowed to carry much cash over from the previous day. The reason given is that the P.O. wants the money in the bank drawing interest. This makes early transactions difficult when very often the first three or four customers give us $20 bills and all we have in the drawer for change are a couple of fives.
"Postal clerks have their individual stock counted only about once every three or four months, even if they do hundreds of dollars worth of business each day. Have you noticed that postal clerks scribble their calculations on pieces of scrap paper? In banks they straighten out money at the end of each day. In grocery stores they have cash registers that add and keep records. Why is the USPS so primitive?
"The reason they stick to their archaic methods is that they make a profit from their clerks' mistakes. If a clerk is 'over,' the excess goes to the P.O. If the clerk is short, the clerk pays. To be 'within tolerence,' a shortage must be less than $20 for the entire three or four month period. A lot of unwieldly paper work complicates the matter and people sometimes end up hundreds of dollars short.
"The indifference of management really makes me feel bad. We have a constant flow of experts, inspectors and new supervisors, all changing our methods and checking the paper work. I could tell you more, but I have to stop somewhere."
I can relate to lower-level peons who are not clued in on what management is trying to do. I have worked for managements of that kind.
On the other hand, every well-run firm tries to earn interest on its surplus cash. The key question is how much is really surplus and how much should be left in the till so that clerks can make change? When customer complaints become widespread, the company must be judged overzealous in its attempt to earn interest.
Employee responsibility for missing cash is always a delicate matter. Unless penalties are imposed for shortages, there is great temptation to take money from the drawer. I make no judgment on what the tolerance limits should be for any specific clerk.
I agree with the criticism that USPS has been slow to switch to modern business machines, but I am puzzled by the complaint that experts and inspectors keep changing the methods used, and constantly check on the results. Is USPS management so hyperactive it annoys employees or it is asleep at the switch? Which is it?
Today's second USPS letter included enough personal detail to make it possible for somebody to guess the writer's identity. I will therefore paraphase the letter instead of printing it as it was written.
The letter said: You quoted Edmund Burke in praising the woman who risked unpopularity by speaking out against "friends" who gave a drunken driver three cans of beer for the road.
How would you consel me? Where I work, drugs and alcohol are bought and sold openly and used openly. It is made clear to those of us who do not participate in this activity that we can look the other way and keep quiet about it, or else. Should I keep quiet and permit evil to triumph or am I supposed to speak out and find out what that "or else" refers to? (End of paraphrase.)
Each of us must make his own decisions in mattes of conscience. When the decisions are difficult, we sometimes seek expert counseling. In your case, perhaps your clergyman could help. Or perhaps there is a supervisor or inspector you trust.
On the other hand, the supervisors and inspectors must surely know what goes on. Inasmuch as they have failed to take action, it might not be such a good idea to confide in them.
Edmund Burke's brave words are inspiring, but one must keep practical considerations in mind. There have been many drug-related killings in this area. If speaking out is tantamount to suicide, it does not accomplish its purpose. Dead heroes can do nothing to make the world better for the husbands, wives, mothers, fathers or little children they leave behind.
The entire responsibility for wiping out evil does not fall upon each person who perceives some form of it. Common sense dictates that in some circumstances our first duty is to survive and to form effective alliances. Together we can accomplish what it would be foolhardy for one person to attempt.