The Federal Buzz is a weekly partnership between The Washington Post and GovLoop , a social networking site for federal workers.
The U.S. Postal Service is thinking about going to the cloud. The cash-strapped agency recently proposed a new online mailbox system that could receive and store official documents like bills, legal correspondence and health records.
The “eMailbox” would be linked to an individual’s home address and would only be able to receive messages from other eMailbox users.
The Postal Service has been struggling as mail volume has dropped over the years. Several other countries already offer an electronic mailbox system. While it’s clear that the USPS needs to think of ways to stay relevant in the electronic age, many public servants were skeptical about this latest eMailbox proposal.
Government workers’ concern with the eMailbox had less to do with the concept and more with the agency implementing it. “If this had been offered a few years ago I would have jumped right in,” said Kirby Coon, an employee at the Department of Agriculture. “However, the service that is received from USPS today is not something that inspires confidence they could pull this off.”
Faye Newsham, a long-time federal contractor, welcomed the idea from a consumer standpoint: “I would love a centralized email account for all individuals of the home tied to the address where junk, bills, etc. could go. I’d love some kind of system tied to my Social Security number for taxes, medical records, voting, legal stuff.”
However, Newsham was also skeptical that USPS had the capacity to support the eMailbox system. “Do I think it can happen? Maybe with an entirely new group of folks.”
Other public servants voiced concerns about privacy and security. While it’s possible for someone to steal a credit card statement out of your physical mailbox, breaking into a network with thousands or even millions of virtual mailboxes would be far more lucrative.
Denise Petet, a employee with the Kansas Department of Transportation, said, “I think, given the sensitive data they’re potentially suggesting, I’d want to know that the security is rock solid. That’s my biggest issue with anyone offering to collate data about me. Anytime you put stuff like that in one place it’s a hacker target.”
Not everyone was as pessimistic about the Postal Service’s ability to adapt. “There is no reason the USPS can’t figure out how to leverage the information age to enhance their business and services,” said Richard Rynearson, a National Parks Service employee. “The people at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others are constantly coming up with innovative web applications. The USPS can too.”
However, some thought the Postal Service simply was too late to jump on the e-services bandwagon. With most people already juggling several email accounts and utilizing online billing, the eMailbox may be a tough sell. “I honestly am happy with the current postal service,” said Gregory Butera, a federal consultant. Rather than duplicate existing products, Butera offered a far simpler suggestion: “I think it is high time rates just go up to reflect the market cost of mail.”
Do you think the eMailbox system is a viable opton for boosting the postal service? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using #FedBuzz. We’ll share responses in a GovLoop post next week.