OWCP Slaps Sanctions On USPS For Privacy Act Violations

OWCP, with the approval of the Department of Justice has imposed nationwide sanctions on USPS for repeated Privacy Act violations. Information sharing will be restricted.

Here is the text of the letter sent out by OWCP:

dol.jpgThe purpose of this letter is to inform you of certain steps that the Department of Labor (DOL) is taking in order to fulfill our obligations under the Privacy Act to protect the privacy rights of Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) claimants by preventing the unauthorized disclosure of FECA documents by the United States Postal Service (USPS). DOL has concluded that, as the administrator of FECA, we have exclusive authority to control the disclosure of FECA records, including those in the possession of USPS. We have consulted with the Department of Justice (DOJ), and DOJ agrees with our legal conclusion. Nonetheless, USPS remains unwilling to abide by DOL’s restrictions on the disclosure of FECA documents. In order to avoid the unauthorized disclosure of FECA records by USPS, DOL is suspend transfer of certain FECA information to USPS, except in very limited circumstances where disclosure would be permitted by the Privacy Act. or required to avoid unduly penalizing USPS employees.

We have notified USPS that as of July 1, 2013, DOL’s Office of Workers Compensation’ Programs (OWCP), which administers FECA, wi11 suspend electronic transfer of FECA information and documents to USPS, suspend USPS access to the Agency Query System, and suspend access to specific case, documents through electronic kiosks in OWCP FECA District Offices. In addition, OWCP will limit access to copies of correspondence sent to a claimant. Information requested by the USPS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Postal Inspection Service for investigatory activities within the scope of their investigative authority will continue to be provided.

This suspension follows USPS’s refusal to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Interconnection Security Agreement (ISA) with DOL required to support continued electronic transmission of FECA data to USPS. The MOU and ISA require conformance with the Privacy Act. USPS’s refusal to sign the MOU and ISA results from its disagreement with DOL over which agency controls disclosure of FECA documents. No other federal agency that participates in FECA has claimed an independent right to disclose FECA records and thus refused to sign the MOU and ISA.

I am sure that you are most interested in the practical effects on your members of the actions we are taking. One effect of this suspension of data will be that USPS may find it difficult to provide sufficient information to its pharmacy Contractor (PMSI) and its physical therapy contractor (Align Networks) to permit them to perform activities relating to USPS employees who have active FECA claims as well as those who experience new injuries. In terms of immediate effects on your members, we suspect that your members may not be able to get information about their FECA claims (such as compensation payments and medical bill inquiries) from USPS injury compensation specialists. While much of this information has been available (and will continue to remain available) to your members through the Claimant Query System (CQS) and through the Call Centers in the OWCP FECA district offices, we are aware that some members are unfamiliar with the CQS system, and we anticipate that the information exchange process will undergo challenges during the transition. OWCP staff will be available to assist claimants in accessing information regarding their claim.

In view of the scope of this action, I am providing further explanation for our decision. As DOL has long maintained, and as DOJ concurs, FECA itself gives DOL the exclusive authority to control disclosure of FECA records. As you know, FECA establishes a government-wide system of federal employee compensation for work-related injury and disease. FECA explicitly gives the Secretary of Labor (the Secretary) the exclusive authority to “administer and decide all questions arising under [FECA],” 5 U.S.C. § 8145 (2006), and also authorizes the Secretary to “prescribe rules and regulations necessary for the administration and enforcement of [FECA],” 5 U.S.C. § 8149 (2006). Pursuant to these authorities and in light of significant privacy interests often implicated by FECA records, DOL has promulgated regulations requiring any disclosure of FECA records–including FECA records held by other agencies–to comply with a government­ wide system of records notice, entitled DOL/GOVT-1, that limits the circumstances in which all agencies participating in FECA, including the USPS, may disclose FECA records. See 20 C.F.R §§ 10.10-.11 (2012). DOL published DOL/GOVT-1 pursuant to its obligations under the Privacy Act.

FECA creates a claims process that expressly calls for the creation of records in filing a compensation claim, requires agency participation in the creation of certain of these records, and gives DOL substantial control over the information these records are required to contain. See, e.g., 5 U.S.C. §§ 8119-8121. Given the centrality of records to the FECA scheme, DOJ agrees with DOL that controlling disclosure of such records falls well within the Secretary’s authority to “administer and decide all questions arising under [FECA].” Id. § 8145. And DOL has concluded that the protection of FECA records is “necessary for the administration and enforcement of [FECA],” id § 8149, especially in light of the sensitivity of the information contained in FECA records, the desire to preserve incentives for FECA applicants to provide DOL with all the information necessary to process FECA claims, and DOL’s long history of protecting such records against disclosure. See, e.g., 20 C.F.R. § 1.2l(a) (1938). DOJ believes that DOL’s conclusion in this respect is reasonable in light of DOL’s statutory authority.

As is usual for government-wide systems of records under the Privacy Act, DOL’s system of records for FECA establishes a number of routine uses that allow the disclosure of FECA documents in specified circumstances. But USPS has argued that it has independent authority to disclose FECA records including in contravention of DOL’s routine uses. Although USPS has a unique status within the federal government in light of its independence from many federal statutes, the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, as amended, 39 U.S.C. §§ 101-5605 (2006 & Supp. V 2011) (PRA), explicitly provides that officers and employees of USPS are covered by FECA, including the FECA provisions giving the Secretary broad authority to issue regulations for the administration of FECA. See 39 U.S.C. § 1005(c) (2006). In addition, the PRA section exempting USPS from many federal statutes expressly states that the PRA may elsewhere subject USPS to other federal statutes, and the PRA in fact does elsewhere subject USPS to FECA. See 39 U.S.C. § 410(a) (2006). DOL has therefore concluded that USPS, like other federal agencies, is subject to the Secretary’s administration of FECA. DOJ also concurs in this conclusion.

USPS has also argued that the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169 (2006) (NLRA) gives it independent authority to disclose FECA records. While the NLRA imposes certain information sharing requirements on parties in collective bargaining, no provision of the NLRA directly addresses or mandates the disclosure of FECA records themselves, and there is no suggestion in the statute’s text that the NLRA was intended to displace the Secretary’s authority under FECA. Therefore, DOL has concluded that the NLRA does not give USPS independent authority to disclose FECA records beyond the disclosures already authorized by DOL’s routine uses. Again, DOJ agrees with our conclusion.

We have tried to resolve the issue of control over FECA records for many years. Most recently, at USPS’s suggestion, Ms. Deborah Giannoni-Jackson, the then-USPS Vice President Employee Resource Management and I negotiated over this matter for a period that extended considerably beyond the thirty day period originally agreed upon in a January 7, 2013 conference call between USPS and DOL. While DOL offered an operational approach that would minimize the burden on USPS in making disclosures that DOL considers appropriate under the Privacy Act USPS has indicated that it intends to continue to disclose FECA documents in circumstances DOL has determined would be inconsistent with the Privacy Act. Thus, DOL has informed USPS of the imminent suspension of the electronic transfer to USPS of FECA documents and information except to the extent necessary to avoid unduly penalizing USPS employees.

We expect that, as a result of this action, DOL will experience increased telephone calls and written inquiries from USPS injury compensation specialists and USPS employees/claimants, DOL also expects to receive increased inquiries from USPS OIG and the Postal Inspection Service, DOL OIG and the Department of Justice for information relating to cases under active investigation. DOL will also need to immediately take over handling of FECA Third Party subrogation cases previously handled by USPS. Notwithstanding these challenges and difficulties, DOL is committed to ensuring that USPS claimants continue to receive the benefits and medical care that they are entitled to receive under FECA in a timely and high-quality manner.

DOL will continue to attempt to resolve this matter with USPS even after the suspension of• information and document transfer. We regret having to take these steps, but DOL must fulfill its obligation under the Privacy Act to protect records it gathers in the course of administering FECA and to protect the Privacy Act rights of all FECA claimants. In addition to informing appropriate members of Congress about this action, DOL has also written to the heads of the Postal unions explaining this situation and will be posting an explanation on its website.

We are available to answer any questions and to discuss any concerns that you have over this issue.

Impact of USPS Data Suspension

21 thoughts on “OWCP Slaps Sanctions On USPS For Privacy Act Violations

  1. I am a injured management person. I work with a lot of those other management personnel and they are evil, deceitful and even turned on me. WHY? Injury Comp the requirement of their position is to lie, cheat, hide documents and make the story up as they go along. I only found this out after filing an appeal and receiving a copy of my file. A class action needs to be filed on the USPS or they will keep doing it. I am not like other supervisors I was being run over and wanted to make a difference so I became management but am finding out I am ALL ALONE. Now they drive by my home, have people watching me. Because I won my appeal so now they are trying to fire me. The harassment happens because I was instructed in my office training to do just that and refused. Now I am the target.

  2. To those that don’t know what is going on, we were restricted because we have unions that may require these medicals or in some cases the information may need to be sent to higher authority, such as judges or whomever, we are required by the union to supply this information. The ones complaining are gonna be the first once that sit on hold with DOL on their non toll free line for 5 hours and still not get what information they may need. If you think sending your paperwork directly to DOL is the answer, when you don’t get paid, don’t come crying to us, and yes your medicals still need to come to Injury Comp, or you just might get sent home for lack of updated medicals, remember DOL works for all government agencies not just us, it might take them 6 months to find your CA7 for lost time, then they still have to send it back to us to process correctly

  3. Seriously now, if the Union needs medical or other claim info to help one of their members then the member can provide the records. Postal HR is just pissed because now they are getting left out of the loop to have the private records of employees. BOO HOO! HR is NOT the employees friend. They DO NOT assist the injured but LIE, falsify written records and encourage lower management to screw over the employees. Injured employees have the option to submit their information directly through download to OWCP or by mail therefore by passing local and district offices all together. Before this suspension HR has been able to access all the info you send. So they are now left out in the cold…perhaps with less to do because they DON’T have your records to try and use against you!

    Believe me this hasn’t stopped HR from trying to get the records DIRECTLY from the injured employee with a sob story letter that DOL has suspended them and for you to just gather all your info and send to the district office and don’t forget to give your local supervisor a copy too. Bunch of hooha because nothing says you have to give to district or local office. Why would you since DOL says USPS doesn’t have the right to your information? Sob story letter is carefully worded…just want to help expedite your claim and assist you and makes it sound like you must submit to district!! If they forwarded your CA-1 or CA-2 to OWCP then they need nothing else from you. Send all documents directly to OWCP yourself. Postal management and HR do not follow their own rules and they are not your friend!

  4. Just was denied compensation on recurrence of an injury back in 1990. I requested a copy of my file in April. In June I received a letter stated they were assigning someone to make copies since it was so long ago it is a paper. Along with the letter they sent me all paperwork I just sent them. What jerks. We are now almost at the end of July to this day I receive nothing. I wrote the Solicitor of Labor Division of Mgmt + Admin within the Labor’s Legal advisors. Since it’s my right to get the copies according to the Privacy Act.
    Since I didn’t have all the paperwork from back then to give to my Dr. to compare I got screwed. Denied, Denied, Denied.
    I was wondering if anyone out there has any info. I may use in this situation.
    I did have MRI’s dated back to 2004 to present day. I guess that wasn’t good enough.

    Your help would be very much appreciated!!!!!

  5. As we all know, mandates mean nothing to the arrogant Postal Management.It would be nice, but the DOL is a government agency too and will have little reprecussions for infractions.
    Union reps are supposed to ask the employee’s permission for access to their injury records. It’s as simple as giving them permission to access their DOL website page or getting the papaerwork from the grievant.Management is not there to help.
    They are there to figure out a way to punish people.

  6. Good luck to the Unions now on requesting medical and other OWCP records from DOL. If you thought the Injury Comp Office was bad, wait until you see how DOL handles your request. You’ll be lucky to get it within 90 days if you get it at all.

  7. So the USPS abused a privilege and now the injury comp specialists have to work. Just like the management tells Clerks,carriers etc. tighten your belt and work harder. keep up.

  8. i have just retired, so not really any of my business now, but FYI, I was injured when a drunk driver rear ended my LLV delivering the mail. so i wound up being a window clerk, got two strokes there, seems like every time i called a injury comp specialist, i got a different person, because the last person had been detailed somewhere, every injury comp specialist i ever spoke to, was related to some higher EAS person. none of the injury comp specialist i ever spoke to had any degrees or certification, or training in that field, remember when you found out that PERSONNEL did not have your interests at heart, and they were there to manage you as a resource ?

  9. I would like to see Management follow the rules and regulation’s if that day ever comes they should make a Holiday remembering the day hell froze over and Management actually did the right thing.

  10. Why is the Dept of Labor emblem different than the one they use on their website?
    Who is Lu the poster of this post?

  11. USPS will continue to live in the fantasy land that they are supreme beings not obligated to follow rules, laws, or even common human decency standards. And people wonder why the USPS is in demise.

  12. If stewards and management knew how to keep their mouths shut about employees business then there would be no problem but they can’t. Big freaking blabber mouths especially Cathy…you know who you are..BIG MOUTH back stabbing heffer!!

  13. Spoken like a true mgmt. stooge Fixer.

    The USPS’s track record speaks for itself. If you can’t honestly acknowledge that, either:

    – you’re very new to the USPS.

    – you’re a mgmt. stooge.

    You can put any spin on it you want, but as said, the USPS’s track record of deceit, lies, purposely breaking/ignoring laws/contracts, etc. speaks for itself.

  14. Fixer – If your a steward I hope you just started and Good Luck. We, as stewards don’t need a note saying you, Jane Blow, will allow me to see your medical files if I feel I need them for a grievance! If I am trying to help you why would I need a written request from you. That’s a mgmt. ploy to delay. Look it up it’s in our MRS.

  15. Wow. What a response. If the USPS would ‘..just once’ follow the rules? The USPS has ‘the gall to disobey DOJ orders’?? Pretty strong language, people..How can you read that blanket statement up there – issued by the DOL – & even know WHAT issue is involved?
    Mgt. cannot withhold information requested by a shop steward, correct?
    However, when a shop steward requests documentation relative to an employee’s accident/injury one is 1st supposed to get a signed release from the employee saying ‘I, Jane Doe, authorize my shop steward, Joe Blow, to view the doc. relative to my work-related condition’ – or something similar, correct?
    Well,apparently the DOL – like many other gov. agencies – doesn’t understand the term ‘collective bargaining agreement’ because they don’t have Unions. So, when they make grandeous statements like ‘While DOL offered an operational approach that would minimize the burden on USPS in making disclosures that DOL considers appropriate under the Privacy Act’ they are really saying:
    we don’t know anything about your contracts, agreements or time constraints & we don’t have to because we’re the DOL! If their Reps need to see something, they can just call or write us – & we’ll get it to them.
    In the meantime, no new claim info will be uploaded, the USPS will lose any access they have to programs & nobody can visit our offices – except the OIG.
    Yes, I believe the term is ‘pi$$ing match.’
    Also – & I know this is stunning info to some of you – it’s not always our fault.

  16. HEY INJURY COMP SPECIALIST-USPS…….are you serious or are you some kind of a clown? You state in your post…..”how are we suppose to help people…..” HELP PEOPLE??? You and the entire USPS Workers Comp Organization are akin to the SS/NAZI’S during WWII……you lie, cheat, steal, deny, invade privacy, employ bogus Drs and Therapists, harass injured employees, etc.!!! HELP PEOPLE?? That’s laughable! The USPS reaps what it sows……it has the gall to disobey DOJ orders! Just like PMG FAT PAT DONAHOE had the gall to think he could disobey Congress! The USPS is the MOST CORRUPT GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION in Washington, DC and around the country.

  17. The Postal Service has an established record of violating the Federal Privacy Act. It sells customer names and addresses under the guise of the address correction program. It rents new mover names and addressees to a targeted marketing company that uses them to send out tons of commercial ads. A couple years ago it got caught red handed selling lists of employee names and home addressess to credit card hawkers.

  18. To inj comp specialist – If you truly are an inj comp specialist you might want to consider filing a CA-2 if you think employees are going to be coming in blowing people’s heads off over this!

  19. Hey “injury comp specialist”, if the USPS, just once, would follow the rules, regulations, and LAWS regarding this and other topics (medical records,labor contracts, etc. ie., which they are also busted on, they wouldn’t *constantly* be being busted.

    As with every single problem the USPS faces and has, the blame is 100% on USPS mgmt’s hands, no one, nor no where else.
    Until the corrupt, unethical, and stealing sleaze that are USPS mgmt are dealt with, nothing will change.



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