Blockchain technology has been quietly helping federal agencies with everything from tracking data related to disease outbreaks to managing threats to food safety.
Now, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is looking to more concretely help agencies collaboratively use blockchain and associated distributed ledger technology-based systems.
In mid-March, NIST released a notice of intent for collaborative blockchain research support services, noting the need for cross-government collaboration in the burgeoning technology area.
“Blockchain and DLT systems are inherently collaborative solutions, where multiple parties work together towards the system’s goals,” the notice states. “As such, it is necessary to understand the complexities that such systems would hold when collaborating between different U.S. government agencies, and as well as multiple layers of government and external organizations.”
NIST notes there are “many nuances and complexities to discover and overcome, system requirements for running an interagency blockchain system and differences/difficulties in the authority to operate (ATO) process.”
NIST Investigates the Future of Blockchain in Government
NIST’s current work on collaborative blockchain research will inform how the agency moves forward with helping other government entities learn about and use blockchain and DLT technology.
Since January 2020, NIST has been working with the Treasury Department and the Defense Information Systems Agency on a proof of concept for a governmentwide blockchain application for grant tracking, according to the notice.
The previous research and development work has involved “internal exploration and testing” of Treasury Department systems, including” cryptographic function issue identification, and collaborative interagency relationships requiring mutual trust,” the notice states.
NIST notes that due to IT security concerns, the work needs to be “limited to as few researchers as possible.” NIST plans to continue investigating “requirements for running an interagency blockchain system and investigating the modifications necessary” for the ATO process related to blockchain-based systems, according to the notice.
NIST envisions working with a contractor to “investigate the technical and functional requirements to create a collaborative peer-to-peer interagency blockchain system.” The contractor will also help NIST “investigate source code of a proof of concept interagency blockchain application” and deploy a version of that on NIST systems, disconnected from external systems.
An optional task would involve discussing with NIST blockchain researchers and other interested government agencies guidelines and rules of governance for an interagency blockchain system, according to the notice. That would take into account factors such as adding and removing nodes, smart contract execution, system resource usage, modification of the blockchain structure, and other elements.