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Postal Service moving to protect workers, mail

The U.S. Postal Service is evaluating technology it could use to prevent any further spread of anthrax in postal facilities and beyond, Postmaster General John Potter said Monday. Potter, speaking at a White House press briefing with Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, said that the agency is looking at devices similar to those used to decontaminate food and medical supplies. Potter did not offer a timeline for acquiring the devices. Nor did he say where they would be deployed. The Postal Service's Board of Governors has initially approved spending upwards of $200 million for capital investment in the fight against anthrax, according to agency sources. It is unclear where the money will come from. "This is not in our current financial plan," Chief Financial Officer Richard Strasser told Government Executive. "We are working through ways to determine how we can finance this." Strasser said it could take up to a week to iron out a detailed plan on how the agency funds and deploys its battle against anthrax. Some agency sources speculated that they will ask Congress for emergency funding. Barely 1 percent of the agency's funding comes from Congress. The agency's primary source of revenue is through the sale of mail products.

Potter said the Postal Service does not plan to curtail mail delivery. "The postal family is shaken by the thoughts of terrorists using mail as their tool," he said, adding, "the men and women of the Postal Service are committed to moving the mail." Vincent Sombrotto, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, echoed that sentiment. The "heinous" attempt to intimidate postal employees will not work and will not disrupt the mail, he said. Sombrotto said letter carriers are not yet being required to wear protective clothing when they deliver the mail. Some Postal Service employees are criticizing the agency and the Centers for Disease Control for moving slowly to search for strains of anthrax at a Washington mail processing plant. An anthrax-laden letter sent to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was sorted at the Brentwood facility in Northeast Washington. Two postal employees working at the plant contracted anthrax over the weekend. Two other employees died recently and there is suspicion that their deaths are related to anthrax.

The Brentwood facility was closed Monday and all of its employees are being screened for exposure to anthrax. The agency is also conducting tests at a plant in suburban Maryland. One of the exposed employees makes regular runs between the two facilities. Ridge said the Brentwood plant was not closed earlier because CDC officials did not deem it necessary. The CDC traced the letter backwards from Daschle's office to a post office where Capitol Hill mail goes after being sorted at Brentwood. CDC tests did not initially find strains of anthrax at the post office. A second round of tests turned up positive. At that point, the CDC and Postal Service moved to conduct tests at the Brentwood facility.