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S&T Invests Innovative Blockchain DLT Technologies

William N. Bryan; Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology.It has been over a year since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP) released its initial Preventing Forgery and Counterfeiting of Certificates and Licenses funding solicitation, which specifically focused on the use of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) solutions to boost security, privacy and interoperability. The investment yielded such significant, innovative and unprecedented results for S&T that we were able to identify even more opportunities to apply these technologies to support DHS component missions.

I’m happy to share that we have now opened a second release of this solicitation to pursue some of these new opportunities—five, in fact. Let’s walk through the impact of our research and development efforts in blockchain and DLT and what we hope to achieve through this new round of investment.  

Initial Needs for Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies

DHS components and the Homeland Security Enterprise all need to issue identifiers, entitlements, attestations and certifications for a variety of purposes, like travel, training, education, organizational identity, delegated authority and supply chain security. Right now, these processes are often paper based, non-interoperable and are susceptible to loss, destruction, forgery and counterfeiting. To address this, S&T has been working with a cohort of start-ups on solutions that address these challenges with a high degree of security, privacy, interoperability and usability on the web, mobile devices and more.

I want to underscore the uniqueness of this effort. The start-ups were required to collaborate and adapt their products to be interoperable with each other using the same standards—this work is unprecedented in the blockchain and DLT field. In May, we held a technology demonstration of interoperable digital wallets, issuance and verification functions across all seven companies. By working together across their different products, the start-ups developed solutions to address use cases like digital Permanent Resident Card issuance and verification for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Transportation Security Administration and supply chain asset tracking for Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Trade.

What we’re finding so far is much promise for standards-based approaches for issuing credentials digitally to enhance security, ensure privacy and prevent forgery and counterfeiting of certificates and licenses across all DHS missions. 

Success Leads S&T to Fund New DHS Use Cases

Given the success of this initial investment, we felt compelled to fund five additional use cases under this topic call to support CBP, USCIS and the DHS Privacy Office (PRIV):

  • Alternative Identifier to the Social Security Number (PRIV)
  • Food Supply Chain Safety and Visibility (CBP)
  • Supply Chain Traceability of Natural Gas Imports (CBP)
  • Supply Chain Traceability of Direct-to-Consumer E-Commerce Shipments (CBP)
  • Privacy Respecting Essential Work and/or Task License (USCIS)

More information about each topic can be found on the SAM.gov solicitation page, but I want to particularly draw your attention to the fifth use case above, which specifically addresses one of the ways the Department is responding to the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

DHS staff play a crucial role in ensuring the continuity of operations in emergency response, supply chain fulfillment and essential business operations. DHS workers are responsible for the public health and safety of individuals/citizens who need to interact in-person with DHS to conduct official tasks, duties and appointments. And essential workers need a safe way to self-identify in the performance of these responsibilities. During the pandemic, we need standards-based solutions to enhance DHS’s ability to:

  • Assert and validate the eligibility of people conducting official tasks, such as applicants for citizenship, asylum and other immigration benefits, who need entry to DHS offices to complete these tasks;
  • Enable digital representations of paper-based documentation, such as vaccination records or medical releases, in a manner that preserves security, ensures an individual’s privacy, and speeds processes and wait times;
  • Assert and validate the eligibility of people conducting travel designated as essential; and
  • Assert and validate the eligibility of people conducting business designated as essential.

Standards-based blockchain technology is now a reality for S&T. This second release underscores the benefit of the Department’s strategic investment in blockchain and DLT and its focus on multi-platform interoperability. We are gaining more momentum and seeing more return on investment than we initially anticipated, and we are proving the benefits of government investment in commercially-available solutions. I look forward to our industry partners joining us in this endeavor and I will share results from the topic call in the near future.  

In the meantime, stay safe, healthy and vigilant.  

The deadline to submit applications for release 2 of the Preventing Forgery and Counterfeiting of Certificates and Licenses topic call is July 10, 2020. For more information, visit beta.sam.gov to read the solicitation.

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