The U.S. Postal Service has been tapped to manage a yearlong trial of technology that ultimately should allow citizens to securely register for online services at multiple agencies -- without obtaining multiple passwords and other digital identification for each service. Within days USPS is expected to begin hiring one or more cloud companies to host the simplified access network, according to a government notice.
The so-called Federal Cloud Credentialing Exchange, or FCCX, will act as a middleman between agencies and approved popular ID providers, such as Verizon and PayPal, that already have verified the identities of many citizens for e-commerce transactions, federal officials said this week.
If this service works, one day a person might be able to change an address online by logging on to USPS.gov with the same passcode or smart card that person uses to file taxes through IRS.gov and buy books from Amazon.com.
The exchange is meant to be part of a larger public-private movement. So far, agencies have stumbled leading the country on a likely decade-long endeavor, called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, to ensure Internet users are who they say they are when interacting online.
One concern is that the strategy relies on trusting an embryonic industry of nongovernment “credential providers” to certify sensitive personal information. To soothe nerves, the Obama administration in November 2012 decided to start small, only at the Postal Service, with a model that can be scaled up governmentwide later, according to a draft work order.
USPS “was chosen to manage the technical implementation of a pilot version of FCCX,” stated the draft, which was released Dec. 28. Simultaneously, the General Services Administration, which handles federal purchases, will develop policies to guide participants using the network.
The exchange service will help “provide a consistent approach to authentication for citizens seeking online access to individualized federal agency systems and applications,” the contracting document stated. And it will allow customers “to use the existing credentials they already hold with the credential providers approved” by the U.S. government.
USPS intends to order Web-based software from one or more suppliers to try the service on test customers, ID providers and government offices, according to the document. The Postal Service did not specify the types of applications or customer interactions the exchange will attempt to facilitate.
Most departments have disobeyed a 2011 White House directive ordering all new federal websites to offer citizens the option of registering for government accounts with existing usernames and passwords. “Agencies have been challenged in this to date due to technical, policy and cost barriers that have made it challenging to accept third-party credential providers,” the contracting papers acknowledged.
The exchange network will not store anyone’s biographical, biometric or other personal data. And it is designed to prevent agency personnel and other participants from tracking citizens’ interactions across agencies. The network will “transmit credential information securely without knowing the identities of the credential holders and limit the ability of third party providers and relying parties to correlate the transaction activities of the credential holders,” the draft stated.