E-authentication grows up

GSA bets agencies will be willing to pay a fee for e-authentication services

E-government has matured to the point that federal agencies are now willing to pay a fee for e-authentication services to verify people’s identities online. That’s the conclusion reached by the federal E-Authentication Executive Steering Committee, which approved a new fee-for-service policy in June.

A transition to the new business model will occur in spring 2008, officials said. The federal program office that manages e-authentication services is now part of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service.

Georgia Marsh, former acting program executive for e-authentication, described the policy change as a major milestone and turning point in the federal government’s e-authentication history. E-authentication is one of 25 e-government initiatives that the Bush administration introduced in 2002 as part of the President’s Management Agenda.

The e-authentication initiative supports e-government by providing a government- wide infrastructure that protects the privacy and integrity of online transactions. Individual agencies can use that infrastructure rather than create their own online verification procedures for e-government services they offer. GSA’s E-Authentication Program Management Office expects to provide customized packages of e-authentication services, officials reported in GSA’s Federation News newsletter.

Office of Management and Budget officials support GSA’s efforts to help agencies expand their e-government services, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology. That includes having the right policies in place and offering identity management products and services that agencies need, she said.

“There are over 50 agency applications live and tens of thousands of log-ins per month to those applications within the E-Authentication Federation, and these numbers are growing,” Evans said. The E-Authentication Federation refers to business rules and processes that GSA established in 2005 for verifying people’s identities when they go online to conduct transactions or share personal information with a federal agency.

The federation rules let trusted third parties issue digital certificates used in the identity verification process. GSA has authorized eight organizations to issue digital certificates to federal agencies for e-government services.
According to the agency’s recently released five-year strategic plan, GSA expects the E-Authentication Federation to satisfy most of the requirements that agencies have for identity management services. GSA officials declined to comment on planned changes in the e-authentication program.

Since its inception, the government’s e-authentication initiative has faced challenges. Although the market for identity management products is large and growing, it is still relatively immature, GSA officials said in the agency’s 2007 to 2012 Strategic Plan. That document states that many needed policies, processes and technologies are not yet in place.

Analysts reacted positively to news of GSA’s new business model for e-authentication. “It shows the evolution and maturation of government’s attention to providing a central service to the rest of government,” said George Schu, a vice president at consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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