Report: White House Should Promote Blockchain with the Federal Data Strategy

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By promoting trust and transparency, the tech could encourage agencies to share more information with one another, according to the Data Foundation and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Open data experts think the White House should think about using the federal data strategy to get more agencies to invest in blockchain technology, at least for a limited set of use cases.

The federal data strategy, which was unveiled last week, calls on agencies to adopt standards that would make their internal data more readily accessible and usable across government. Though blockchain “is not a panacea” to the numerous data-related challenges that face government, in some cases it could help encourage agencies to more willingly share information with one another, according to the Data Foundation and Booz Allen Hamilton.

“As the federal government moves forward in developing a federal data strategy, consideration can be given to how blockchain might enable better recognizing data as a strategic asset for government,” researchers wrote in a recent report. “A blockchain can bring a wider circle of participants into a project that produces open data for public use.”

Blockchain, the distributed ledger system popularized by cryptocurrencies, has for years been one of the tech industry’s biggest buzzwords, but researchers argue there are some situations where the tech could prove particularly effective.

The system tracks all changes made to a specific asset, they said, so it’s useful for ensuring datasets and other records touched by many different users are accurate and reliable. Additionally, they said the tech is best suited for standardized processes that don’t change much over time.

If agencies clearly define rules for accessing and altering information on the ledger, federal leaders could loop in more groups on open data projects while maintaining trust among all the different parties, they said.

Some federal agencies are already testing the tech for a wide range of applications—like tracking the food supply chain, deploying personnel to crisis zones and improving border security—but researchers found the results of those efforts have so far been mixed. As more agencies look to kick off their own blockchain pilots, researchers highlighted a handful of factors officials should consider ahead of time, revolving mostly around assessing the benefits of blockchain versus more traditional methods.

Still, they urged government leaders to encourage agencies to experiment with the technology for “responsible, appropriate application[s].” While the federal data strategy would be an effective way to promote the tech, they said legislation from Congress could also push agencies in the right direction.

“Whether blockchain will ultimately prove a success in government is yet to be seen,” the report said. “But for now, applying blockchain for government programs and operations should be a welcome development when possible.”