Making amends

Two U.S. Postal Service workers have died of anthrax because they weren't adequately protected. This is a national disgrace that must be rectified.

When the Senate majority leader received a letter containing anthrax, anyone who could have possibly come in contact with that letter was immediately placed on antibiotics. Why wasn't the same thing done for postal workers handling mail that eventually found its way into the Senate office building?

We're told that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believed there was no need to protect postal employees because they didn't think anthrax in a sealed envelope could escape into the air and infect postal employees. Apparently they were incorrect in that assumption, and at least two people lost their lives because of that mistake.

As I am writing this column, I do not know whether the letter was indeed "sealed" or whether the envelope had a slight opening in it that would have allowed some anthrax spores to escape into the air. But that must have been the case. At the moment, there is no other explanation. Perhaps a subsequent investigation will reveal that other mail handled at this facility was tainted. I do not know.

What I do know is that two postal workers at the main Washington, D.C., facility have died. Nothing I can say or recommend will bring back those em.ployees. The only thing that can be done that is of any help is to make sure that the survivors of the two employees are handsomely provided for, above and beyond any survivor annuity they may be entitled to.

I think survivors should receive a special annuity equal to the deceased employees' full salaries. If there are any dependent children, the cost of their college education should be assumed by the federal government.

That's the least that can be done to compensate for the major error in judgment that cost the lives of at least two innocent victims. The federal government must make amends as best it can.

What is also called for here is not better coordination, but somebody who clearly can call the shots. I think when you're at war, you have to establish a certain chain of command; we don't have that yet on the domestic front. It's a difficult thing to come to grips with because we're not used to it. If homeland security chief Tom Ridge is the man, then he's got to have that authority; if he doesn't, then he's been put in an impossible position.

Maybe this would have saved the lives of the two USPS employees, but maybe not. I'm upset that nobody knew enough to prevent their deaths. But now it's our duty to take care of the survivors.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at miltzall@qis.net.

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