TJN: U.S. Postal Service authorities said yesterday that the error that caused a temporary embargo to be placed on mail to Israel and Lebanon was the result of a misinterpreted e-mail by an employee from the agency’s regional office.Pat McGovern, a spokeswoman for the U.S Postal Service, said someone in the agency’s West-chester district office erroneously sent out an e-mail after reading one that said the Beirut International Airport had closed after being badly bombed and that post offices in northern Israel had shut down after a state of emergency had been declared.”The person made the assumption that we couldn’t go there,” McGovern said. “The person should not have done so. We apologize for any confusion made through this message.”
McGovern said that as of yesterday, mail for Israel was being forwarded there and mail for Lebanon is being forwarded through Damascus, Syria.
The Westchester district office oversees post offices serving Westchester, Rockland, Orange and parts of Putnam and Sullivan counties.
McGovern said the e-mail that spoke of the bombings originated from the Universal Postal Union, an international organization that coordinates postal policies between its 190 member nations. An e-mail to the Switzerland-based organization was not returned.
The e-mail from the union appeared to be from a legitimate source, McGovern said, but the employee misinterpreted it and sent out an e-mail without consulting anyone else.
“He mistakenly assumed the mail was not going anywhere,” she said. “Until we’re told the mail is embargoed by other countries, we would continue to send it as usual.”
Instead of trying to verify the contents of the e-mail, the employee sent out an e-mail to all post offices in the district Thursday saying that the embargo would take effect Friday.
The e-mail notice from the district office did not give a reason for an embargo, and on Friday inconvenienced people who visited the Monsey post office, which is in a predominantly Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community.
Don Hass, a supervisor at the post office on Melnick Drive, said yesterday that because of the Jewish Sabbath, many customers did not come to the post office on Saturday, and since the office is closed Sunday, they would have used the automated service.
“It’s had little impact,” Hass said yesterday. “It’s business as usual now.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-Bronx, was so agitated by reports in The Journal News of a regional postal embargo, he demanded it be lifted on Sunday.
After hearing about the communication mistake early yesterday, Engel said he planned to make sure it didn’t happen again and urged that a uniform policy be put in place where any decision to have an embargo come from Washington, D.C., and not a regional office.
“We need to look into what the policy is and who makes the decision,” he said. “It should be a uniform policy. Not that my Rockland constituents can’t send mail, but my Bronx constituents can. It didn’t make sense.”
McGovern said she was not aware of any disciplinary actions taken against the employee.
“It was done innocently,” she said. “It was a mistake.”