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Feds Take Next Step In Spreading Blockchain Tech

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Federal agencies are closer to using blockchain—the decentralized, encrypted ledger system that lets people track transactions on the internet—for internal purposes. 

The government's buying hub, the General Services Administration, is planning an emerging technology workshop for early September. During that gathering, participants including business executives and federal managers will be asked to propose ways the public sector could use blockchain, artificial intelligence, open data and other emerging technologies.  

GSA's Emerging Citizen Technology program is hosting the workshop Sept. 8. 

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Agency leaders are thinking about ways ideas from the workshop could influence the fourth version of the National Action Plan for open government, a commitment to a set of broad goals such as "increase accessibility of government information online" and "reconstitute USA.gov as the front door to the U.S. government." The plan is published as part of the United States' membership in the Open Government Partnership, a consortium of nations pledging to promote transparency. Russia notably withdrew from that partnership in 2013.

Workshop participants must "introduce a new, ambitious open government initiative, and all goals must be entirely new to the U.S. government," Justin Herman, GSA's Emerging Citizen Technology lead, told Nextgov in a statement. 

It's still not clear exactly how federal agencies plan to widely use blockchain and artificial intelligence, though GSA has hosted workshops and forums, and created networks of interested leaders known as "communities of practice" dedicated to each. 

A recent GSA pilot program walked agencies through the process of setting up their own virtual assistants, sort of like Apple's Siri, for citizens, but so far agencies have only developed prototypes. And the 100 or so federal managers who attended GSA's blockchain forum came up with hundreds of potential ways to use blockchain, but it's not clear what those use cases are.  “Most of these probably won’t work,” Herman  told Nextgov earlier this month, nothing that the agency doesn't advocate for specific technology but instead organizes educational workshops in response to interest in specific technology from agency leadership.  

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