Labor Department, USPS team up on ID proofing

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A pilot project set to launch in 2023 will see the Department of Labor and the postal service teaming up to help unemployment insurance applicants verify identities on behalf of participating states.

The Department of Labor is planning a new pilot in the unemployment system with the U.S. Postal Service that will allow people to be identity-proofed at post offices. 

“We will soon be doing a pilot with USPS … to utilize some of their retail locations so that folks in states, especially in rural areas where the state workforce agencies are farther or people don’t have internet connections and things like that, they can walk into their local post office and do ID proofing,” agency chief information officer Gundeep Ahluwalia said during a panel discussion on Wednesday hosted by FCW.

Ahluwalia said the ideals driving the Labor Department’s work on jobless aid are improving equity and timeliness and decreasing fraud, and that the forthcoming identity proofing pilot with USPS will help all three.

“Regardless of which part of the country you are, regardless of what side of the digital divide you are, whether you own a phone or have an internet connection or not, you should be able to get to your benefits when you need them the most,” he said. 

On the sidelines of the event, he told FCW that details like how many states will be participating are still being worked out. The target timeline is to launch in a few locations next calendar year.

The move comes as the department continues its efforts to modernize and improve the delivery of jobless aid, a benefit delivered by states and territories, by dispensing grants to states, sending out tech teams and piloting solutions. 

“I am particularly proud of the fact that we are not only thinking about digital solutions, but we are developing digital solutions to enable non-digital avenues for the claimants to do ID proofing, for instance,” Ahluwalia said during the panel. “So digital solutions – we’ll have [application program interfaces] that’ll connect between the state systems and USPS – but it is meant for that person in a zip code where probably internet connection is three miles away from that person. That’s our target as well. We don’t want to leave that claimant behind.”

This isn’t the first foray by USPS into identity proofing work. They already offer in-person identity proofing for some of their own services and help some other agencies with identity proofing already. The Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 expanded its ability to offer non-postal services to all levels of government.

The Labor Department will be able to tap into that existing work USPS has already done with other federal agencies, said Ahluwalia, but “what will be unique is the API connectors to different state systems.” He added: “That’s a different ballgame that no one else is doing and that’s where our team will focus.”

The USPS inspector general suggested in a May 2022 whitepaper that USPS scale its in-person identity proofing offerings, or act as a validator of identity attributes like names and addresses for other agencies. USPS management said in a response included in the report that although it is continuing to work on identity proofing and verification capabilities, expanding these will depend on alternative funding sources.

In addition to the forthcoming work with the jobless aid system, USPS is also working with GSA's, a shared sign-on and identity proofing service. 

“The Postal Service’s unmatched retail footprint offers a unique opportunity for government agencies, such as the General Services Administration that need to complete an in-person proofing. We are actively working with government agencies to do this today,” a USPS spokesperson told FCW. 

In-person identity proofing is offered for at seven USPS locations in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the website. Individuals start the process online and then bring state-issued identification and proof of address to be reviewed in-person to match the digital application with the real person behind it.

The Labor Department also already has existing efforts focusing on identity proofing in the unemployment system. 

The department has ongoing work on identity verification as part of a pilot with the U.S. Digital Service, Arkansas and New Jersey.

The team piloted in March in Arkansas as a digital alternative to in-person identity verification currently offered by the state, according to a GSA spokesperson. If the pilot is successful, DOL says the effort could be expanded to other states.