Last night, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said he was convinced that his pal Jim Gallagher was cleaning up the Southwest Philadelphia mail-processing center after a nearly three-hour "walk-and-talk" tour the two took yesterday afternoon.

In fact, Brady said, Gallagher, a onetime Philadelphia letter-carrier who rose to become the new regional postal director, was sleeping at the plant so he could visit all three shifts.

Brady, D-Pa., who on Dec. 5 called for a Government Accounting Office probe of the processing center, withdrew that request Monday to give Gallagher, a friend since childhood, "a little time before anybody was breathing down his neck."

The GAO, which falls under Brady's duties as chairman of the House Administration Committe, would not have been able to investigate until mid-to-late January, he said.

During the tour, Brady said Gallagher told him that there wasn't any mail on Tuesday's day shift because postal workers had processed 15 containers the night before and little additional mail had arrived.

Postal workers told the Daily News on Tuesday that they were surprised there was little to no mail to process on what was supposed to be the highest mail-processing period of the year - just before Christmas.

Yesterday, a small amount of mail was processed during the day, but late-shift workers were busy and worked an hour overtime, according to postal workers.

"There's no backlog. There's no mail down there, and it's not being rerouted. You'll see, he's not hiding the mail," Brady said.

A USPS spokesman said that workers were sent home without pay voluntarily and that "it's efficiencies and the volume is down."

3.4 million fewer pieces of mail passed through the plant between last Friday and Tuesday compared with the same period last year, the spokesman said. The plant processes 6 million pieces on an average day, according to a USPS study this year. Postal officials say there was a drop of 9 billion pieces of mail during fiscal year 2008 compared with 2007.

"I don't think it's a good sign that the Postal Service can sweet-talk GAO out of an investigation," said Gwen Ivey, president of American Postal Workers Union, which represents workers at the plant.

"Our concern is that the mismanagement in Philadelphia goes above the plant level where the problems occurred," she added. "No one would be protected from scrutiny in a GAO investigation, and that's the way it should be."

Asked about allegations of senior managers ordering clerks to falsify the daily mail volume, Brady said Gallagher "heard about it and looked into it, but none of this was on his watch.

"The first thing Gallagher did was meet with the union people," said Brady, himself still a member of the carpenters union. The Postal Service is investigating.

Brady said he and Gallagher grew up together in Southwest Philadelphia, where they attended St. Calista's school and St. Thomas More High. Brady coached Gallagher and his brother in football and softball.

"He's a stand-up guy," Brady said. "They brought him back to clean the place up."

Brady said he wouldn't put his integrity on the line backing Gallagher if he didn't have confidence in him. *