By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
That was the reaction of a former postal executive to the recent disclosure that the financially troubled United States Postal Service has been funding a TV drama aimed at children.
No other federal agency is directly underwriting programs for commercial television, said the Deadline Hollywood website.
According to Deadline Hollywood, the USPS has spent $5.4 million since 2014 on a program featuring postal inspectors and could spend millions more on the show, now in production for its second season on CBS.
Word of the funding shocked mail industry officials in Washington because the USPS has been proclaiming itself in dire financial shape for six years, unable to make millions in required payments to the federal treasury.
Gene del Polito, the longtime president of the Association of Postal Commerce, noted it takes “a boatload of money” to produce a TV show.
“Given all the poor-mouthing, you’d think Congress might want to know why that money is being spent in that manner,” he told Linn’s.
Postal officials say the program is paying big benefits and drawing strong audiences.
“We’re always looking for innovative ways to get our message out and this is just another avenue,” chief postal inspector Guy Cottrell was quoted as saying in a news release posted on the USPS website in 2015 when the show debuted.
The release did not reveal that the USPS was underwriting the show’s production with monies collected by the Postal Inspection Service.
Deadline Hollywood disclosed in August that Litton Syndications Inc., a South Carolina-based television production company, had secured a contract with the USPS to develop what a Freedom of Information Act response described as “a consumer awareness crime prevention” series titled The Inspectors.
The two-year contract was for $5.4 million. It began in September 2014, and runs to Sept. 14, 2016, with options to extend the contract two times for one-year periods.
The 30-minute episodes are carried by CBS in a three-hour block of children’s programming on Saturday mornings, the website said.
Paul J. Krenn, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, praised the program in an e-mail to Linn’s.
“We’re proud of this innovative approach to consumer education and fraud prevention using television as a medium to extend the reach of our crime prevention campaign,” he said.
Krenn also said that the $5.4 million does not come from either tax funds or postal rate payers.
The money comes from an assets forfeiture fund and criminal penalties paid by individuals prosecuted by the Postal Inspection Service.
The funds are awarded the agency for “specific purposes that include consumer fraud and crime prevention education,” Krenn said.
Litton creates the shows based on actual cases handled by postal inspectors, Krenn said.
“We contribute concepts and ideas concerning the cases that are depicted, but the overall creative [control] and direction of the show is under Litton’s control,” the spokesman said.
USPS began discussion with Litton about the program in 2012, two years before the contract was signed, Krenn said.
“Over the course of two years we engaged in a dialog across the organization and into USPS leadership ranks, concerning the concept … and whether this pioneering approach was the right one for an organization that typically has been very conservative in its methodology,” he said.
What the Postal Inspection Service discovered was “overwhelming support for the idea” both within and outside the USPS, Krenn said.
Krenn said that then Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was consulted before the Postal Inspection Service decided to go ahead with the program.
The show has allowed the USPIS to be “engaging audiences in a sustained manner that far exceeds anything we’ve previously been able to achieve outside this television show,” Krenn said.
The end credits for the episodes mention that the Postal Inspection Service has sponsored the show, according to the Deadline Hollywood website.
That should place the show in compliance with Federal Communication Commission rules, the site said.