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Real Talk with U.S. Postal Inspector

Real Talk with U.S. Postal Inspector Stephaine Harden, who protects the U.S. Mail from illegal and dangerous use.

Come rain, sleet, snow or hail, Stephaine Harden’s job is to support and protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers and to enforce laws to defend the system against dangerous or illegal use.

During her 13 year career as a U.S. Postal Inspector, Harden worked a wide variety of cases from Oregon to Texas, including mail fraud, mail theft, facility security assessments, analysis of suspicious powders and liquids, and threats and assaults against postal employees, to name just a few. Postal inspectors enforce more than 200 laws covering investigations of crimes that adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. mail and postal system.

“It’s like putting out fires every day,” said Harden. “You never know what the day will bring and how long it would last.”

Harden began her federal career in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she served as a field auditor at the Packers and Stockyard Administration. Her assignment was to ensure the auction markets in the state of Texas and Oklahoma were bonded and financially sound to pay the sellers after their livestock was purchased by a buyer. She joined the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in 2000 and, after 14 weeks of training in Potomac, Maryland, she was assigned to Portland, Oregon.

In Portland, Harden investigated mail theft cases, such as items stolen from public or customer mail boxes, as well as internal and external threats and assault cases involving postal employees. After four years, she wanted to return to her native Texas and took an inspector’s job in Corpus Christi, where she handled all aspects of services, including security, fraud, counterfeits, identity theft, mail theft and dangerous mail investigations.

In 2008, Harden was assigned to Houston, where she specialized in the investigation of fraud cases, such as scams using the mail and counterfeits sent through the mail, as well as dangerous mail, such as packages that include a potentially dangerous powder, liquid, or improvised explosive device. She is currently a member of the Postal Inspector Security Team, which handles security assessments of postal facilities, assaults and threats involving employees, and dangerous mail investigations. She is also the Public Information Officer for the Houston Division.

During her time in Houston, Harden also served as a recruiter, so she knows a lot about what the agency is looking for in candidates.

In addition, Harden said the availability of specialized degrees for federal jobs depends on the job climate. Sometimes, federal agencies will accept applications based on a specialized need or specific skill while other times just a degree from an accredited university may be required.

Harden also stresses the importance of good writing skills. Many potential Postal Inspector candidates don’t make it past the writing assessment. Students should know how to write a business letter while applying, and clear, effective writing is a critical element in law enforcement.

Finally, Harden said it is important for students to maintain a clean personal history (no criminal improprieties) and avoid drugs at all costs. Postal Inspectors and many other federal agents are required to attain and maintain at least a top secret security clearance. Most federal positions require a polygraph exam, which reviews a candidate’s background for several years.

“The polygraph alone has weaned out a lot of good, potential candidates,” said Harden. “Have a good, clean record. A lot of candidates have had their past come back to haunt them.”

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