He did the math and it didn’t add up after the financially strapped U.S. Postal Service awarded a major contract to a private company to maintain and change locks on clustered mailboxes in Iowa and 17 other states. The multiple boxes are used for mail sent to suburban homes, apartments, businesses and other places.
“I was saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute: Where are the savings?’ ” Gardino recalled.
So Gardino, 48, who has worked for the Postal Service since 2007, became a federal whistle-blower. He lodged a complaint with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Ia., who responded by seeking an investigation.
An audit released last week by the inspector general of the U.S. Postal Service confirmed Gardino’s suspicions. It concluded that postal officials mishandled the $18 million contract, overestimating the cost savings of using the private firm by nearly $7 million per year and outsourcing the work based on an erroneous assumption. The agreement with Diebold Inc. was terminated on Dec. 31, 2013.
“This is a good example of why whistle-blowers who identify waste, fraud and abuse deserve a Rose Garden ceremony on behalf of the grateful public,” Grassley said. “It’s also a good example of why every agency that serves the public needs an independent watchdog to review issues of concern.”
Officials with Diebold, based in North Canton, Ohio, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Gardino, a native of southern California who spent six years in the U.S. Army prior to joining the Postal Service, is a maintenance employee with a variety of duties. His job in the past had included maintaining and changing locks on clustered postal boxes, which are common in suburbs such as Ankeny.
After the Postal Service awarded the contract to Diebold on Sept. 22, 2010, Gardino said he had questions, especially since the goal was to save money. Based on his own pay of $21 an hour, he figured he had been changing about 22 locks a week in Ankeny for about $10 each. But Diebold was charging the Postal Service about $40 per lock replacement, he said.
The American Postal Workers Union also expressed concerns about the contract, filing a grievance with the Postal Service, which was initially denied. However, an arbitrator subsequently found in favor of the union and ordered the Postal Service to terminate the deal. But that happened only after the Postal Service had paid Diebold more than $18 million between January 2012 and November 2013.
The inspector general’s report concluded that the Postal Service did not award the Diebold contract in accordance with Postal Service policies and procedures. Officials also did not develop a purchase plan or conduct a price analysis beforehand, it said.
“As a result, contracting officials did not assess price reasonableness or obtain higher-level review and approval as required,” the audit said. In addition, officials inadequately analyzed internal lock repair and maintenance costs, the inspector general concluded. However, the lack of an analysis to establish that the contract provided the best value did not necessarily indicate the Postal Service incurred losses, the report said.
Stacy St. John, a Postal Service spokeswoman in Iowa City, said the Postal Service respects the rights of all of its employees who make disclosures of allegedly illegal or improper government activities.
“In fact, all federal agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, are required to provide notice and periodic training to all employees and applicants for employment on the rights and remedies available to them under anti-discrimination and other federal laws and regulations,” St. John said.
Meanwhile, Gardino, whose official title is building maintenance custodian, never left the Postal Service, but he returned to changing locks on Ankeny postal boxes last November. His area of responsibility covers 49 square miles of Ankeny with more than 850 cluster box units for people to receive their mail.
Gardino, who moved in 1998 to be closer to his sister, says he is not active politically, although he considers his views to be conservative.
“Heck, I just think the government spends way too much money. So when I look at something like this I say, ‘Wait a minute.’ I am just trying to make a difference where I can,” Gardino said.