Identity Management

Pondering the pros and cons of an ID hub


While plans for a federated identity management hub are progressing well, federal IT managers who might employ it are pondering some of the tough trust issues associated with such a wide-reaching government project.

A single federated ID would make tracking, verifying and authenticating identities across federal agencies that have public-facing web applications easier, but it also could make the public uneasy, said some IT managers participating in the hub project.

In a discussion at an AFCEA Bethesda chapter breakfast panel on Nov. 7, Katie Lewin said developing user trust -- not just technological capabilities -- is key to winning acceptance for a single federated identity. Lewin heads the Federal Cloud Computing Program Office in the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.

The panelists sought to explain their identification and authentication projects while also asking the audience of potential identification technology suppliers for help in developing capabilities.

The panel discussion centered on the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange (FCCX), launched in late 2012 by the U.S. Postal Service

The idea is to use a single cloud-based identity credential that could be used across multiple government agencies, instead of having to produce and verify multiple documents. Pilot testing for FCCX began in August.

The use of a single identity across government agencies with information stored in a third-party broker's cloud raises trust issues among a public that is already sensitive about the government's access to personal information.

"One credential might be scary," said Naomi Lefkovitz, senior policy advisor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Donna Roy, executive director of the Department of Homeland Security's Information Sharing Office and program director of the Homeland Security Information Network and National Information Exchange Model, said it also raises public service issues.

"Who do I call if I have a problem" with a cross-agency identity document as a private citizen, she asked. "Who do I yell at if something goes wrong?"

The problem of developing trust in the system is not insurmountable, Roy said, but will take public outreach and education. Banks for example, have developed public trust in their credit card systems. The processes for handling credit cards fraud and theft are well-established and understood among those providing and using the services. That path might be useful in establishing a federated identification credential.

Others warned that private-sector models don't always translate well into government.

"The public sector is different from a bank," said Sharon James, director of Cybersecurity Architecture and Implementation at the Internal Revenue Service. While banks talk to their customers regularly, sometimes daily, the IRS talks to its customers primarily once a year, at tax filing time. That means customers will not be used to dealing with IRS systems and identification procedures. James said she needs third-party brokers to help her agency and its customers understand the procedures.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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