At a time when the U.S. Postal Service is experiencing a financial crisis, it purchased a $1.2 million mansion in South Carolina to relocate an employee. The employee, who applied for the new job — a mid-level manager position — qualified for the purchase under the Postal Service's relocation policy. It turns out this was just one of 14 homes costing $1 million or more that the Postal Service has purchased in the last two years. (CNN story)
How did you get started? (tip, editor assignment, etc.):
A viewer who saw a CNN story about the postmaster general's salary e-mailed us about the home.
What were the key sources? (people, documents, etc.): The owner of the lot next door, local real estate agents, the online listing and virtual tour, the multiple listing service reports, and the Postal Service's answers to e-mail questions. We also developed sources in the Postal Service who gave us perspective on the issue.
What was the biggest roadblock you had to overcome?
The Postal Service initially told us this was not a story because it was part of a routine relocation. Of course, when someone says that, our antennas go up. It took a lot of going back and forth to get specific answers, but the Postal Service finally answered most of our questions.
It was important to understand how the relocation policy worked as well as who actually qualified for a home purchase.
Do you have any advice for journalists working on a similar story?
Take a specific tip like this and look at the big picture. We knew this was probably not an isolated case, so we pressed hard to get specifics about the relocation policy and these million dollar home purchases. As a result, the inspector general's office is looking at these purchases as well as other aspects of the relocation policy.