Postal Service eyes digital dollars

In its efforts to bolster a flagging bottom line, the USPS is exploring non-traditional services it could provide using its existing electronic and physical delivery infrastructure.

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In its efforts to bolster a flagging bottom line, the U.S. Postal Service is looking to provide managed identity services and other non-traditional projects for the public using its existing electronic and physical delivery infrastructure.

At a Sept. 19 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on a Postal Service reform bill, USPS officials gave a glimpse of what services, aside from mail delivery, the service could introduce to get additional revenue.

The bill, introduced by committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), would allow the Postal Service to ship liquor and wine, reduce its door-to-door deliveries and reform worker compensation plans. It also would require the Postal Service to come up with alternative revenue sources.

"Our bill attempts to permanently address the Postal Service's long-standing health and pension issues and right-size its processing and delivery network, while providing it with the tools to generate new revenue in the digital world," Carper said.

Part of that effort includes digital services based on the agency's underlying infrastructure, said agency officials.

The Postal Services' Secure Digital Solutions Group is looking at potential product offerings and services that include identity and access management services and secure messaging, Patrick Donahoe, postmaster general and USPS CEO, told the committee. "The Postal Service is confident that it can leverage critical brand components, such as trust, convenience, security and privacy," he said. That leverage could come from the Postal Inspection Service, the service's law enforcement arm, which he said is playing an important role in efforts to move into the digital realm.

The agency has already begun to move toward commercializing its IT capabilities with its participation in the Federal Cloud Credentialing Exchange pilot project, he added. The project is part of the White House's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Through it, the USPS can "deliver sealed packets of identity data securely between government agencies and identity providers," he said.

The USPS inspector general notes on its webpage that the project could pave the way for people to change an address online by logging into the Postal Service website with the same passcode or smart card they use to file taxes with the IRS or buy books on Amazon.

IG David Williams backed the assertion that the Postal Service could fill a unique niche in providing electronic identity management services.

The Postal Service, he said, could address several digital needs for the public and private businesses, including secure electronic messaging; storage and integration services to give people tools to organize multiple communication channels such as email and electronic messaging; creation, storage and validation of digital identities in electronic transactions; and supporting the use of digital currency by U.S. and foreign buyers in online transactions.