OPM eyes blockchain for employee records

A blockchain-based employee record could help ensure personnel data can be securely shared across government.

The Office of Personnel Management faces challenges in securely transferring employee records between agencies that have redundant, siloed human resources IT systems.

The lack of integration, interoperability and data standards across agencies and service providers leads to inefficient and inaccurate reporting that makes it difficult to make strategic decisions and take advantage of a shared services model.

One solution is the creation of the federal employee digital record that would enable a secure exchange of information on the lifecycle of employees. An EDR based on data standards and a data exchange strategy will make it easier for agencies to access records throughout an employee's career.

Marcel Jemio, chief data architect and acting chief of OPM’s Data Management Federal Data Solutions, sees blockchain as a way to facilitate the sharing of personnel data.

“There are all of these processes, regulations and rules that keep us from having speed of delivery and getting data in front of decision-makers faster and sooner without a collapse in quality,” Jemio said a Dec. 6 FCW event on shared services and emerging technologies.  “Personnel data is [personally identifiable information], but there may be a way that we can share this data more securely.”

One potential EDR prototype is being developed by OPM and the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service, and was outlined in a September request for information. The system includes a data lake and a separate data exchange architecture that allows data to be exchanged through the blockchain. 

The RFI also asked industry for other approaches to building the EDR through blockchain, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology.

“I see blockchain as an accelerator, with the alignment of different technologies coming together,” Jemio said.  “We are willing to look into blockchain to see if it will succeed … but we need to create the right data standards to help it succeed.”

As more agencies become familiar with blockchain's aggregation, governance and privacy capabilities, they will see data sharing and shared services converging, said Mark Fisk, IBM's public sector blockchain lead. 

He acknowledged that the distributed nature of blockchain and the single-provider model that defines shared services can seem like odd bedfellows, but he said, "it's really going to be coming together" over the next year.   "You're going to have this concept of blockchain leveraging and bringing together information, helping it to be disseminated out -- I think it's going to be a great source for shared services," he added.

To promote other blockchain use cases, the General Services Administration’s Emerging Citizen Technology Program is convening its first monthly interagency forum on Dec. 13.  The forum is intended to help government employees can share progress on pilots and set agendas for collaborative interagency reports.

GSA is also working to develop a Paths to Acquisition resource as part of its Emerging Citizen Technology Atlas to help agencies navigate the different opportunities for pilots and proofs of concept through GSA schedules, competitions and the NTIS Joint Venture program.

Editor's note: This article was changed May 29, 2018, to correct the link to the RFI.

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