The Hill

Postal overhaul could open up IT revenue opportunities

post office building

A bill that would allow the U.S. Postal Service to ship liquor and wine, close some mail processing centers, reduce its door-to-door deliveries and reform worker compensation plans could also let the financially challenged organization exploit its massive IT operations for profitable commercial uses.

The legislation, sponsored by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), would give the Postal Service enhanced authority to develop and introduce new non-postal products that leverage its retail, mail processing, transportation and delivery networks. It would also mandate the creation of a chief innovation officer position at the agency to look for creative ways to tap new revenue streams.

A Senate committee staffer told FCW that while the bill doesn't specifically mention the Postal Services' massive IT and data processing capabilities, the potential for the agency to use those facilities to "make a little cash" is there. Ultimately, however, those new applications would have to be approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the independent agency that oversees the Postal Service.

The move by a federal agency to open up its IT operations for use by commercial interests isn't unprecedented. Some federal research labs seek out private companies on some projects. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory opened access to its massive Vulcan supercomputer to industry and academia for collaborative developmental projects, for example.

The Postal Service is known as a worldwide supercomputing leader and certainly no stranger to big data. It provides real-time fraud analysis on 528 million pieces of mail per day with one of the most powerful non-classified supercomputing facilities in the world.

The Postal Service's IT and Accounting Service Center in Eagan, Minn., operates with 16 terabytes of in-memory computing that allows it to scan 6,100 mail pieces per second and compare in real-time relevant information, including carrier and routing data, weight and size, to a database of about 400 billion records.

The Postal Service declined comment on the legislation and on opening up its IT infrastructure for use by others. Hearings on Carper's measure are expected to begin in September.

The agency has already taken a step in the direction of commercializing its IT capabilities with its participation in the Federal Cloud Credentialing Exchange (FCCX) pilot project. The project is part of the White House's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace and allows the Postal Service to assume a digital version of its real-world role, delivering sealed packets of identity data securely between government agencies and identity providers.

The Postal Service 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.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group