Security detail

After a disaster, letter carriers and retail associates are welcome faces for weary customers, a hopeful sign that things are returning to normal. But behind the scenes are other employees working tirelessly to help USPS — and the communities it serves — recover.

Postal inspectors from the Postal Inspection Service are among these hidden helpers. While best known as criminal investigators, they play a crucial role in getting USPS back on track after disasters such as Hurricane Ian, the recent Category 4 storm that hammered Florida and the southeastern United States.

“First and foremost, we respond right after the hurricane and do assessments of Post Offices and see if it’s safe for employees to return,” said Adel Valdes, a postal inspector based in the Inspection Service’s Miami Division. “We also assist with employee accountability.”

Inspectors also take security measures at mobile retail units or Post Offices. Some of it is “accounting,” according to Leo Polanco, another inspector in the Miami Division.

He helped recover “accountable negotiable property” — cash, coins, stamps, money orders and the like — at the Post Office in Fort Myers Beach, FL, where Ian made landfall.

“We count it, double count it, record it, sign it, stamp it and deposit it or give it back to the district,” he said.

Polanco, who is also an Air Force officer, was stunned by what Ian left in its wake.

“It’s like a combat zone, really. Normally this kind of destruction and, really, the despair you see is found overseas, not in the continental United States. And in this case, about a half-hour from my house,” he said.

Daniel Pinkerton, a Fort Worth, TX-based senior technical surveillance specialist with the Inspection Service, participated in his first in-person recovery effort after Ian.

“I’m standby support for generator hookups to restore power to facilities temporarily,” he said. “I typically handle electronics, body wires, trackers and covert camera installation.”

Valdes and his team also escorted postal executives around to get into areas that only law enforcement could access.

“We help on many levels after a catastrophe,” Valdes said. “I’m always proud of my team.”

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Positive effect

A lead from a letter carrier in Texas has resulted in a shipping deal worth almost $250,000.

While delivering mail on his route, Matthew Rabe, who works at the Bedford Post Office, talked with a customer who mentioned that the cost of shipping was negatively affecting their company’s growth.

After Rabe submitted the customer’s information through Customer Connect, a sales representative followed up and closed a shipping deal worth $249,984 in new estimated annualized revenue for the Postal Service.

“Matthew saw an opportunity to help turn a negative for one of his customers into a positive,” said Dorothy Muir, small-business specialist at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC. “By listening and then passing on information, the customer’s company is growing, and USPS has gained more revenue.”

Sales generated from Customer Connect leads are included in the USPS Delivering for Main Street campaign to raise revenue through sales leads from employees.

The Postal Service is encouraging as many employees as possible to submit at least one lead through any of its six lead programs by Sept. 30.

Postal employees with ACE IDs can submit leads through the new Employee Lead Entry site on Blue by selecting the “Submit a Lead” link under “Featured Topics.” Employees who do not have an ACE ID can access the lead entry site through LiteBlue by selecting “Submit a Lead” under the “Resource Index” tab.

Customer 360 users can click on “Submit a Lead” to access the lead entry site on that platform. Letter carriers who use a mobile delivery device, or MDD, can enter leads while on street mode, under option “U.” Business Connect Portal users have to enter a lead through the lead entry site if an activity requires sales assistance or has resulted in a sale.

The Small Business and Lead Generation Programs Blue page has more information about Customer Connect and the other employee lead programs: Business Connect, Clerks Care, Mail Handlers, Rural Reach and Submit a Lead.

Lean Leader program

The USPS Continuous Improvement team is offering advanced training to select employees who are certified black belts in Lean Six Sigma, a data-driven business approach used worldwide to boost efficiency and reduce waste.

Applications for the Lean Leader Certification Program are being accepted from Nov. 28 through Jan. 2.

The initial review of applications is expected to be completed by Jan. 30 and the candidates chosen will be announced Feb. 20.

More information about the program is available on Blue under the “Lean Leader Training” tab.

Health care ABCs

Many people are confused by health insurance terminology. To help you navigate your way through this year’s open season benefits enrollment period, here are some important definitions:

Copayment: This is a fixed amount paid for certain covered health care services.

Coinsurance: This is similar to a copayment but refers to a percentage paid for some covered health care services rather than a fixed amount paid.

Deductible: This is the amount you pay for covered health care services before your health plan starts to pay. You can find the amount, and how much you’ve paid toward it, through your health insurance plan’s web portal.

Flexible spending account: This is an account set up to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses on a pretax basis. There are also flexible spending accounts designed specifically for dependent care.

High-deductible health plan: This is a plan with a higher deductible than a traditional insurance plan, but usually with lower monthly premiums. It often has an accompanying health savings account.

Preventive services: This describes routine health care that includes screenings, patient counseling and vaccinations, such as flu shots. Preventive services are covered at 100 percent under your health plan if you go to an in-network provider.

The Open Season LiteBlue page has additional information to help you better understand your plan options, including a link to a comparison tool from Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.

Open season runs through Monday, Dec. 12.