updated 11/4/2003 3:44:41 PM ET 2003-11-04T20:44:41

A Postal Service program that raises money for breast cancer research with a special stamp is effective but needs more careful accounting, congressional investigators said in a report Wednesday.

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The General Accounting Office said most people appear to believe it is appropriate for the Postal Service to issue stamps to raise funds for worthwhile causes.

More than 2 million American women have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Each year, about $7 billion is spent on breast cancer treatment. The stamp was created by Congress to increase public awareness of the disease and allow the public to help raise funds for research.

The stamp, which came out in 1998, was the first semipostal ever issued by the Postal Service. Semipostals are stamps that sell with a surcharge, with the additional money steered to support a cause.

Since then, Congress has extended the sales period twice; it is to run through December. There are only two other so-called semipostals: one against family violence and the other for heroes of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The breast-cancer stamp sells for 45 cents, 8 cents more than a first-class stamp, and program costs come out of that 8 cents. The remaining proceeds go to the National Institutes of Health (70 percent) and the Defense Department (30 percent).

The GAO identified a variety of accounting weaknesses that make it hard to know the program’s true expense. For example, the Postal Service does not track invoices of less than $3,000 in assessing the program’s cost.

Investigators said Congress should establish annual reporting requirements for the money and the Postal Service should do more to give cost breakdowns and analyses.

While the full cost of the program is not known, the Postal Service reported that the bulk of costs from the beginning through May 16, 2003, were about $9.5 million. No staff has been hired because of the program, nor are any postal staff working full time for the program.

The Postal Service reported that $8.7 million of the $9.5 million in program costs were recovered through the first-class postage portion of stamp revenue. The remaining $853,000 in costs was recouped from the program’s surcharge revenue.

That would have left over $30 million for breast cancer research.

The Postal Service, in response to the report, said it would re-examine its regulations and perhaps change them..

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