Blockchain for everyday efficiencies
- By Sara Friedman
- Mar 12, 2018
While many government agencies are just starting to explore blockchain, the U.S. Postal Service and Treasury Department's Bureau of Fiscal Service have completed initial projects that leverage the technology to improve operational efficiency.
USPS found blockchain could improve the shipping process for foreign packages that come into the United States. Packages shipped from abroad first go to a USPS sorting facility, which forwards them to Customs and Border Protection for examination and to assess duties and taxes. Blockchain gives the U.S. Postal Inspection Service “near real-time visibility” into the movement of those packages once they enter the country, according to Angela Lagneaux, digital solutions specialist at USPS.
“When we sat down with all of the potential players, mapping our current business practices took a good series of meetings to be able to agree [on a way to move forward with blockchain,]” Lagneaux said at the March 8 D.C. Blockchain Summit. “With our bilateral agreements, we were able put information into the blockchain as a near real-time event.”
Leaders at USPS were convinced to move forward with the project after seeing how blockchain's “peer to-peer communication" features could improve visibility and speed package delivery in the U.S.
The Bureau of Fiscal Service recently completed a pilot that used a blockchain to inventory employees' computers and phones rather than sending someone to each branch office to validate the devices' location and users. Each device is tagged and then monitored through the distributed ledger.
“Unpacking our entire business process was eye-opening, and we talked to a lot of people before we even got to the technical stack,” Craig Fischer, innovation program manager at the bureau’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation, said. “When we decided to take this journey, we realized that there were a lot of decisions that go into it beyond looking at a traditional blockchain.”
For instance, Fischer said FIT needed to decide which blockchain implementation would work best for the asset tracking use case. His team decided to move forward with a permissioned blockchain where transactions and blocks are validated through a limited number of individuals allowed to add to the chain.
One of the problems that Fischer encountered was not including the bureau’s IT team into the decision-making process.
“Our IT folks were concerned about [whether the] stack would be a FedRAMP solution, the nodes, which information [was] on chain and off chain,” Fischer said. Going forward, he said, IT will be part of the project to help the program team address security and compliance concerns.
While both the USPS and Bureau of Fiscal Service projects were pilots, it remains to be seen whether blockchain can be used to revamp their agency processes at scale.
“There is still a technology gap in terms of what we are doing,” Fischer said. “In order for this to scale, we are going to need to run it through the gauntlet" to see how it works our processes.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.
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