USPS leans on industry partners

National Automated Clearing House Association

In a joint venture model, the U.S. Postal Service is partnering with firms, including IBM Corp. and AT&T, to ensure the success of its NetPost.Certified service, the equivalent of certified e-mail. The service enables public-sector personnel to securely transmit sensitive information to government agencies in digital form, said Chuck Chamberlain, manager of strategic marketing and e-government at the USPS, speaking at the National Automated Clearing House Association's Payments 2001 conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Both the sender and receiver of NetPost.Certified messages receive electronic certificates certifying that their file has been received and has not been tampered with. The service is being used in 46 post offices nationwide by employees from the Social Security Administration and the Health Care Financing Administration, and it is being piloted by the FBI.

The Postal Service also is talking with Texas, North Dakota, Maryland and other states interested in adopting it, Chamberlain said.

IBM and AT&T are the major partners involved with the project in a "shared risk, shared reward" contract that means "if we make money, they make money, and if we don't, they don't," Chamberlain said. Other companies, including Cylink Corp. and RSA Security Inc., also are involved in the revenue sharing.

However, the contract has several special considerations, including:

An exit clause for USPS. The partners' right to refuse work orders that aren't economic. A joint executive steering committee. Recognition of the different partners' priorities, cultures, styles and strengths. Chamberlain acknowledged that the program's bottom line is making money — he projects a profit of "nine figures and above" by 2003-2004 — but he said the program was developed to help reduce health care fraud at HCFA and to reduce the mountains of paper that agencies tackle every day. The Postal Service charges 50 cents per transmission to use NetPost.Certified, but that cost should go down as agencies begin using the service to send hundreds of millions of documents.

"Initially the government agencies pay 50 cents, but that will change and we have ideas on how to do that," Chamberlain said, adding that the service is available to all federal, state and local governments and can be rolled out very quickly. "If North Dakota wanted it in every post office [in the state], we could do that in weeks."

For now, NetPost.Certified will be available only to government agencies because "we started in government, and I want to prove it in government," but eventually it could be offered to the public, Chamberlain said.

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