In some ways, the $300 million, 930,000-square-foot U.S. Postal Service's processing center in Southwest Philadelphia was always Jim Gallagher's baby.
Gallagher, director of the new plant's activation, shepherded others through the design, construction and relocation of Philadelphia's processing facility and its 4,000 employees from its longtime home at 30th and Market streets to a 50-acre site on Lingdbergh Boulevard near Island Avenue.
He even made sure that the lobby in the new plant had a massive mural including every ZIP code in the city, with iconic images of Philadelphia.
But now, after one month of a new assignment in Harrisburg, Gallagher's back.
Named acting district manager for the Philadelphia area on Dec. 5, the former letter carrier returned to get the mail moving again. He's also trying to solve problems with employees, businesses, customers and equipment amid a criminal investigation of alleged mismanagement and a mail audit by the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General.
"I'm trying to get a clean slate," Gallagher said yesterday during a two-hour interview and tour of the plant. "I want to treat everyone with dignity and respect."
He's reached out to unions, staff, business and political figures and major customers to hear their concerns.
"I'm doing damage control," he added.
But Gallagher, 56, a Southwest Philly native with white hair and a goatee and who was dressed in a pin-striped suit, would not comment on allegations outlined in an Oct. 24 complaint filed by the American Postal Workers Union.
He wanted to talk about measures he's taking to correct the problems:
* Management: He said he has no plans to replace anyone.
The union complaint alleged that, in an effort to cut overtime and jobs, senior plant managers were ordering clerks to undercount the daily mail volume by millions each week, to reroute trucks of unprocessed mail and change the daily color code on bins to make it appear as if the mail was not late.
The complaint alleged that managers received bonuses based on fraudulent government reports.
* A potential Government Accountability Office probe:
Gallagher said he did not ask U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Phila., a lifelong friend, to withdraw a request for the probe. Brady made that decision himself, he said.
"I didn't care about the GAO investigation," he said. "That has no bearing on what we do here."
* Undercounting the mail:
Sources said Gallagher took action this week when he found a clerk undercounting the mail, as the clerk allegedly had been instructed to do in the past by a senior manager.
Asked about the incident, Gallagher said: "I don't know how the mail count is manipulated."
Later, during the tour, he admitted he had asked the employee to verify the count of 11 trays of mail and correct it. (A tray contains 1,500 pieces of mail.)
* Claims that there was no mail processed during the day shift on Tuesday:
Gallagher complained that a Daily News story implied that no trucks were delivering mail.
He said 2 million pieces were processed on the plant's second floor, for a total of 11 million pieces that day.
"I could see if someone was here on the first floor and looked around," he said, standing in a quiet area with little activity. "He might think mail was not being processed."
* The appearance of retaliation:
This week, he said that employees had been offered voluntary leaves without pay and that full-time employees could not be sent home under their union contracts.
* Late and destroyed mail:
The enormous backlog of overflowing bins of delayed mail, which had persisted through the summer and fall, is gone.
But 19 tons of waste mail, which had workable mail mixed inside, was removed on Dec. 2 - the day after the Daily News outlined the problems at the plant - when regional vice president Megan Brennan came to visit the facility.
He said that 50 to 90 tons of waste mail is recycled each month.
* Customer complaints of torn and destroyed packages:
He told employees that if a machine kicks out a package, they are not to run it through a second time, but process it manually.
* Late daily mail deliveries:
He said that he's put regular mail carriers on routes so they can get to know businesses and customers. He also is considering implementing a policy to get business mail delivered by 1 p.m. and residential mail by 5 p.m.
* Business-reply mail not being returned to customers:
He said he has just started to address the problem.
* Scheduled transfer of 162 employees next month:
He's reevaluating those plans.
As the top postal official of the five-county area, he's in charge of $1.4 billion in revenue, nearly 10,000 employees, 400 post offices, and retail stories and three mail -distribution plants that process 20 million pieces of mail a day. *