• on May 12th, 2014 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 1 comment

    Maybe you’ve seen the television commercial with a clueless couple sending their household items up in a hot air balloon to be stored “in the cloud.” It’s funny, but also holds more than a grain of truth. Many of us don’t fully understand the cloud. So we might not realize its promise or potential hazards.

    Cloud computing uses remote Internet servers to manage, store, and process data or content. If you use Facebook or Shutterfly, you are using cloud computing. These kinds of cloud computing applications are attractive because they help users free up computer space, keep better track of their photos or music, or organize their files.

    Businesses and federal agencies are also relying more on cloud computing because it reduces costs and increases efficiency of services. You just turn on the application as you need it, or “on demand.” Some people have compared cloud computing to a utility, such as an energy company. All you do is plug in and you are ready to go. The energy company handles the details of generating electricity at the power plant and the customer just turns on the switch and uses it.

    But cloud computing also comes with risks of data leaks and loss of public trust. This is especially vexing for government agencies, which have turned to the cloud to help them do more with less. The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) has attempted to guide federal agencies in their cloud computing contracts with a memorandum that included areas of information accessibility, data security, and privacy concerns, among others. The U.S. Postal Service recently updated its handbook, Cloud Security, and established information on security policies and requirements to protect its information in a cloud computing environment.

    Recently we audited 13 Postal Service cloud computing contracts and found the contracts did not address information accessibility and data security for network access and server locations. Why? Because these contracts were established under the Postal Service’s older handbook and did not have the stronger controls of its newer Cloud Security handbook. They would have benefited from the Cloud Security guidelines on information accessibility and data security gaps, our report noted.

    If not implemented correctly, cloud computing runs potential security risks, such as the loss of customer information, and could hurt the Postal Service’s reputation as a trusted agency, which in turn would harm its brand. Yet cloud computing can streamline processes, reduce spending on technology infrastructure, and improve flexibility, among other benefits. The key will be employing the right security controls.

    Share your thoughts on cloud computing and what role the Postal Service might play. Do you have privacy or security concerns in maintaining information in the cloud? 

  • on May 5th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 0 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service’s workforce demographics add an extra layer of challenges to an organization that already has plenty. We recently blogged about the Postal Service’s brain drain – the loss of institutional knowledge due to a large number of workers retiring. This week we look at the additional challenge of creating a robust corporate succession plan when nearly half of the Postal Service’s executives will be eligible to retire by 2015.

    Succession planning is a major undertaking at many organizations. But it’s especially difficult when the pool of candidates is shrinking. The Postal Service has been downsizing for the past decade – 200,000 fewer career employees since 2004. It has an urgent need to identify and develop top talent for future executive positions. Without a sound plan, the organization faces significant operational disruptions. Our recent management advisory on the topic noted that the Postal Service has established a sound Corporate Succession Planning (CSP) program to identify and develop top-performing employees for new or expanded executive roles. We found the Postal Service has incorporated many best practices of successful organizations, such as laying out a strategic vision, getting buy-in from top leadership, providing early career development, encouraging diversity, and emphasizing retention. Further, potential successors said the program met their expectations and was effective in developing them into leaders.

    We encouraged the Postal Service to move quickly to approve developmental activities so potential successors have the skills they need when leadership positions become available.

    Share with us your experience. If you are in the private sector or with a different government agency, how does your organization handle succession planning? Do you see the effects of this plan on training and retention? If you are a postal employee, how can the Postal Service ensure it has a successful executive succession plan when attrition is such a factor?

  • on Apr 28th, 2014 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 10 comments

    Given the U.S. Postal Service’s significant role in the nation’s founding, it’s probably not surprising that it owns a number of historic properties. But when the historic institution needs to modernize and optimize its network of postal facilities, how should it handle its historic properties? This has proved an especially volatile question for those citizens most directly affected. A property is eligible for historic status if it meets the National Register criteria, which involve the property’s age, integrity, and significance. That doesn’t mean the property can never be sold or renovated, just that the Postal Service must follow certain regulations to consider the effects of its actions and engage in a consultative process to resolve negative impacts. Complicating the matter, the Postal Service can't readily determine how many of the 9,000 properties it owns (in its portfolio of 32,000 properties managed) are historic. It sold 22 historic properties between October 2010 and June 2013. As of last summer, it had another 25 historic properties up for sale and was considering selling another 28.

    The sale or attempted sale of these properties has caused a firestorm of protest and resistance in some communities. Historic properties evoke strong emotions because the building or structure touches people in many ways. They are often seen as a connection with our past and a lesson for future generations. Combine these passions with the attachment that many people have to their local post offices, and it’s easy to see why the sale of historic post offices can be a lightning rod. Another factor is that some of these post offices were built during President Roosevelt’s New Deal and are decorated with murals and other artwork of the era. Citizens worry that they will lose access to the works of art inside.

    The Postal Service is an institution in a time of change. It faces significant financial challenges as it attempts to right-size its network so it has the optimal number of facilities for its current mail volume – an amount that has declined since 2007. Occasionally, it will dispose of a historic property as part of its network optimization goals. Our recent audit report reviewed the Postal Service’s management of the preservation and disposal of historic properties and we found numerous areas for improvement. Notably, the Postal Service did not know how many historic properties it owned or what it cost to preserve them. Also, it did not collaborate with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to improve its preservation regulations compliance.

    The Postal Service finds itself with competing obligations: Operating a less-expensive network to improve its financial footing versus the preservation of culture, history, and art. What do you think is the best solution? If it is to preserve these buildings, how should they be paid for?

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