secure login (13_Phunkod/Shutterstock.com)

Scaling up secure, single sign-on

With nearly $187 million in new funding from the Technology Modernization Fund, the General Service Administration plans to scale up its single sign-on shared service, Login.gov.

The cross-government identity management solution is currently used by 27 agencies for more than 200 citizen services, has over 30 million users and is also available to a limited number of federally funded state and local government programs. However, major public-facing government programs have not implemented Login.gov.

The additional funding has three goals, according to the TMF announcement. It will increase cybersecurity for current and future users, add equitable identity verification and in-person options for vulnerable populations and make it easier for agencies to provide Login.gov to more citizens. A more robust service will not only increase the use of identity verification services, but it will also help reduce fraud, expand access to digital services for millions of citizens, and cut governmentwide costs.

To expand the program, a GSA spokesperson said the agency plans to reduce barriers for adoption via partnerships, infrastructure and methodologies for high-impact services providers and attract larger agencies with high-profile public-facing missions, like the IRS and Social Security Administration. It also plans to continue scaling up the management office, including creating expanded customer support and partner-facing tools to make it easier for large-volume agencies to adopt the program.

"Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic make it more urgent than ever for the public to gain fast and easy access to their benefits and services," the GSA spokesperson said. "The investment from the TMF will increase Login.gov's ability to continue to address the equitable identity verification technology solutions and in-person verification options for the public, while optimizing and accelerating agency onboarding and adoption."

Jeremy Grant, managing director of technology business strategy at Venable LLP and the former senior executive advisor for identity management at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said the record-breaking award was "a sign that the government has finally realized that it will take serious investment to address deficiencies in digital identity infrastructure at scale."

"It's great to see the government finally taking identity seriously from a budget perspective," Grant said. "Hopefully the administration views this new TMF award as a down payment on efforts to solve digital identity issues more holistically – and develops a plan to build off this initial investment to address broader identity challenges beyond government services."

Currently, Login.gov does little at the moment to address fundamental issues around digital identification, including what analysts call the "identity gap," in which the digital world lacks a counterpart to the physical credentials issued by government agencies.

"You can't truly solve digital identity verification challenges for government programs without addressing broader deficiencies," Grant noted. "GSA has been doing some great work adjacent to Login.gov to close the identity gap by creating a toolkit any agency could use to offer identity attribute validation services – looking to leverage the government's unique role as the only authoritative issuer of identity credentials."

"Supercharging that effort should be at the top of the priority list," he added.

The program also lacks equitable identity verification tools and resources, including in-person verification methods to assist vulnerable populations. GSA said it plans to begin addressing those issues with the initial funding it receives from the TMF award.

A GSA spokesperson said the agency recognizes "the need for alternatives for remote identity verification" to make the program equitable to the entire public, and said the agency was "actively pursuing multiple avenues for in-person identity verification alternatives to the fully online experience provided today, including looking to the latest technology from the private sector."

By improving access to Login.gov through investments in more equitable identity verification methods, the agency said it will "streamline" its ability to deliver aid to the most vulnerable communities across the country.

A longer version of this article was first posted to FCW.

About the Author

Chris Riotta is a staff writer at FCW covering government procurement and technology policy. Chris joined FCW after covering U.S. politics for three years at The Independent. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president.

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