GSA Ramps Up Blockchain Coordination Among Federal Agencies

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By Michaela Ross

The General Services Administration plans to launch the first federal interagency website to coordinate blockchain use in the public sector, an agency official said July 28.

The advance of blockchain technologies in the federal government is “moving faster than anything I’ve seen in emerging technology in government before,” Justin Herman, the GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology program director, told Bloomberg BNA. “Anyone who says that the federal government is going to be behind on this is sadly mistaken.”

Companies such as IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are exploring public-sector uses of blockchain, a technology originally created for cryptocurrency. Herman announced the new website, set for the week of July 31, at a blockchain conference in Washington, D.C.

The technology acts like a database that can connect millions of users and be applied to areas such as record-keeping, financial transactions and identity management.

“The pivot is happening where the signal has been sent to industry now that the U.S. government is not just thinking how do we regulate this, but how do we use it ourselves,” Herman said.

The GSA held its first interagency blockchain forum the week of July 17. One hundred federal managers gathered to share 200 potential use cases for blockchain, Herman said. The Emerging Citizen Technology Program Herman leads was designed to partner agencies with U.S. businesses to modernize federal information technology.

The website will be open to the public and industry as a resource for use cases and a portal for agencies to share news and blockchain open sourced code, Herman said.

Herman said the GSA is spearheading blockchain efforts after seeing a wave of interest across agencies in implementing the technology. The Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Department of State have been exploring potential uses for blockchain platforms.

To be sure, there are skeptics about a public-sector blockchain boom. Peter Van Valkenburg, director of research at Coin Center, a nonprofit blockchain research and advocacy group, said the government’s blockchain use may not amount to much.

The advantage of blockchain over traditional databases lies in its ability to ensure consensus between users that may distrust one another and otherwise use a centralized intermediary for transactions, Van Valkenburg said. If citizens and agencies already trust their government, there isn’t a need to adopt a nascent technology that still has plenty of kinks in it, he said.

“There are probably some interesting government use cases, but there are probably a lot fewer than people think,” Van Valkenburg said during a panel discussion at the conference.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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