USPS aims to outsource e-services

U.S. Postal Service officials aim to contract out at least two new Internet-based services -- secure electronic messaging and electronic postmarks -- as USPS attempts to adjust to the staggering financial losses of 2001.

The two are among the online offerings USPS hoped would become a source of revenue as an online economy took hold. But online services -- from electronic bill-paying to online greeting card sales -- have not been money-makers.

Overall, USPS saw a $1.7 billion operating loss in 2001 and has suffered as much as $5 billion in losses stemming from the October anthrax scare and the September terrorist attacks.

Under the circumstances, "we need to focus on better and fewer things," said Charles Chamberlain, USPS' manager of secure electronic services.

Thus, USPS is seeking private companies to take over its Electronic Postmark service and PosteCS, its secure electronic messaging service.

In a notice to "suppliers of outsourcing services," USPS officials said they want the private sector to supply the "labor, supervision, equipment, facilities and supplies necessary to operate and maintain" the two services.

PosteCS is a Web-based file-delivery service that lets users send electronic files that are too large for most commercial e-mail systems, Chamberlain said. The service also allows senders to protect the files with passwords and provides a return receipt that lets the sender know that the recipient has received the file.

Commercial and government customers use the service, he said.

With its Electronic Postmark, USPS hoped to create a service for those who deal with electronic documents that must be delivered on time, such as legal documents and tax forms.

Verification of time, date and place of filing can be attached to documents with an electronic postmark. The postmark process also involves "hashing" the document contents, which calculates a numerical value for the contents that can be compared to the numerical value of the received document to determine whether its contents have been changed.

When it was unveiled in 2000, the Electronic Postmark was touted as a starting point for more advanced electronic services, such as smart forms.

USPS wants responses by Dec. 28 from companies interested in taking over the electronic services. Decisions about outsourcing other electronic services have not yet been made, Chamberlain said.

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