blockchain in government

Blockchain: Getting government beyond the hype

With the General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security investing in blockchain use cases and proof of concepts, it may seem like widespread use of the distributed ledger technology is right around the corner.   But agencies still have a long way to go before their projects can be rolled out on a larger scale.

Customs and Border Protection, for example, is interested in using blockchain to automate the process for carnet documents that allow travelers entering the United States to bring in duty free merchandise. However, CBP Trade Transformation Office Director Vincent Annunziato said he doesn’t see the blockchain-based solutions from startups as meeting government needs.

However, he said, investments from companies with large federal contracts can help to solve some of the problems that agencies are facing. 

“We are at a fledging point where larger companies like IBM and Microsoft need to uplift this technology so it has a greater use across the board,” Annunziato said at Nov. 8 event on blockchain hosted by FCW.  “Right now, we are in an experimental phase.”

CBP is working with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate to help solve issues related to decentralized key management, interoperability across blockchain platforms and the immutable logging of data from internet of things devices.

S&T held a conference in October to bring together government and industry stakeholders to gain a better understanding of how blockchain can be used appropriately for government.  While S&T is providing funding to various vendors, Annunziato said one of the benefits of the program is how the conversations with agencies about the technology are “company agnostic.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, meanwhile, is working on developing standards that will help agencies with their pilots.  However, NIST Senior Standards and Technology Advisor Paul Grassi said there are some “valid issues” with blockchain when it comes to security and privacy.

For instance, the immutability and permanence of the data on the blockchain -- the critical value it brings to cryptocurrencies and other financial applications -- is “not necessarily a good thing” for some government use cases, Grassi said at the Nov. 8 event.  He also sees a potential problem in the management of the public and private keys used to access the distributed ledger.

“We don’t have a good answer on how account recovery in the traditional world can be solved,” Grassi said.  “Right now, the answer is that you are screwed when it comes to blockchain, so the technology might not be appropriate for some situations.”

GSA recently completed a proof of concept to show how blockchain can be used to automate the FASt Lane process for IT Schedule 70 contracts.  Jose Arrieta, director of the Office of IT Schedule Contract Operations at GSA, said this kind of real-world demonstration is the best way to explain how blockchain can work in government.

“To prove that this technology can work, I picked a business process where we have control end to end so I can use it to educate others,” Arrieta said. 

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected