U.S. Postal Service: Clear Communication with Employees Needed before Reopening the Brentwood Facility: Testimony by Bernard L. Ungar, Director Physical Infrastructure, before the Committee on Government Reform   [open pdf - 733KB]

On October 21, 2001, the U.S. Postal Service closed its Brentwood mail processing facility after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that an employee there had contracted inhalation anthrax. The Brentwood facility has since been decontaminated and will soon reopen. This testimony provides GAO's preliminary observations on the decisions made in closing the facility and problems experienced in communicating with employees, as well as lessons learned from the experience. The Postal Service's decision to wait to close the Brentwood facility and refer employees for medical treatment until CDC confirmed that a postal employee had contracted inhalation anthrax was consistent with the advice the Postal Service received from public health advisers and the information about health risk available at the time. The Postal Service communicated information to its Brentwood employees during the anthrax incident, but some of the health risk information changed over time, exacerbating employees' concerns about the measures being taken to protect them. Other factors, including difficulties in communicating the uncertainty associated with health recommendations and employees' distrust of postal managers, also challenged efforts to communicate effectively. The Postal Service and others have learned since the 2001 anthrax incidents that (1) the risk of contracting anthrax through the mail is greater than was previously believed and more caution is needed to respond to that greater risk and (2) clear, accurate communication is critical to managing the response to an incident and its aftermath.

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