Norman Ochs would just as soon decline the honor, I'm sure. But his recent experience with the post office wins a gold medal from this corner for illustrating how some Reagan budget cuts are already making our lives a little squirmier.
Ochs moved recently from Silver Spring to Potomac. He went to the Silver Spring post office nearest his former home and signed a card promising to pay any forwarding and return postage for third-class mail (typically, that's magazines and bulk mail).
Perhaps as a result, "the post office has done a fine job forwarding my mail to me from my old address," Ochs writes. But like all good things, that came to an end a few weeks ago.
After failing to receive his state and federal income-tax forms in the mail by mid-January, Ochs inquired at the post office nearest his new home. Shockeroo: the clerk checked, and reported that the Silver Spring post office had destroyed Ochs' tax forms rather than forwarding them.
Ochs' forms actually should have been forwarded, because of the card he signed promising to pay forwarding postage for third-class mail. The destruction of the forms was a "human oversight," according to Tom Chadwick, the U.S. Postal Service's consumer advocate.
But if his forms hadn't been destroyed, Ochs would still have had to pay the cost of forwarding them, even though they were documents that had been emitted by one branch of government and were being sent by another.
What's this? The government won't forward government forms free of charge? The government destroys its own forms? The post office won't forward something as universal and important as tax forms without soaking the taxpayer for postage due?
That's exactly right. Tom Chadwick explains:
"The postal service does not provide free mail service to federal or state government agencies. The Internal Revenue Service is required to reimburse the postal service for all mail it deposits . . .
"In reviewing their mailing costs for 1981, the IRS discovered that the total cost of forwarding the annual tax package to taxpayers who had moved amounted to $3.2 million.
"As a consequence, and as a direct result of budget cuts, the IRS notified the postal service that it did not want the 1981 tax packages forwarded except where postal regulations provided such service at no expense to the mailer." And in Norman Ochs' case, the IRS wouldn't have shouldered any expense, since Ochs had agreed to pay forwarding fees.
Despite the postal fumbling, it won't be hard for Norman Ochs to obtain copies of the tax forms. He can get them -- and so can you -- at most banks or any post office.
But those copies of the tax forms won't carry precoded computer strips, which means the IRS staff will have to work all the harder and all the longer to process Ochs' return.
Multiply Ochs' situation by several million, and I'll bet the IRS ends up spending far more than $3.2 million in overtime and electricity.
Is that the sort of "economy" the administration has in mind?
Let's hoist a toast, tardy though it may be, to Barbara Grover, a checkout clerk at the Giant food store on Monroe Street in Arlington.
On Christmas Eve, Martha Wildhack of Arlington came in to do some last-minute holiday shopping. She brought $111.20 with her -- plenty, she assumed. But when Barb Grover added up the mountain of purchases in Martha's cart, the cash register read $113.20.
Martha was preparing to return $2 worth of groceries to the shelves when Barbara did the sort of thing no one ever does any more.
She took $2 out of her own billfold, stuck it in the till and told Martha (a complete stranger) to come back sometime and repay her.
Martha's husband, William, did so as soon as Martha got home and told him about it. Meanwhile, Martha writes to say she's still glowing over the episode seven weeks later. No surprise, Martha -- and no argument.
Martin Buxbaum of Bethesda says he was 25 years old before he discovered that the Speaker of the House wasn't his mother.