HHS expects ATO for blockchain acquisition solution this month

federal blockchain 

The Department of Health and Human Services is making a big push to have the first blockchain-based program in the federal government with authority to operate certification.

Jose Arrieta, associate deputy assistant secretary for the HHS Division of Acquisition, said that he expects to get the ATO "within in the next week" for HHS Accelerate, the program that uses blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence to streamline acquisition by delivering detailed, real-time information on pricing and terms and conditions from across HHS for 10 categories of purchases.

As part of the work to get the ATO, Arrieta and his team had to conduct a series of tests on the HHS Accelerate system where issues were identified and resolved and a report sent to the agency's chief information security officer. Speaking at a Dec. 4 event hosted by FCW, Arrieta said his team is in the process of briefing and getting an approval from the HHS chief information security officer.

"We are using our machine learning to connect contract five systems," Arrieta said. "Machine learning algorithms are cleansing the data from the data layer" before it is fed into the blockchain.

The HHS team has built a "proof of concept using artificial intelligence for cost logic and form selectors" that addresses challenges contracting professionals face, he said.

The whole effort was conducted through two-week sprints that allowed developers to show results and get feedback from interested stakeholders. Arrieta said the return on the initial investment is estimated at 800 percent.

"I'm investing in a series of capabilities to drive enterprise output, but I've fully invested in the return on investment first so if the project is killed tomorrow, it is going to generate a return on investment where it is easily going to pay for itself," Arrieta said. "At the lowest level, I have a tool that can you give insight on prices, terms and conditions and help you negotiate better prices."

The HHS team is also looking into ways to do Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation as a microservice within HHS Accelerate.

"We are looking at ways to improve the security posture of our system," Arrieta said. "We think blockchain creates a unique opportunity for us to take the principles of CDM and execute it in a more suitable fashion."

Arrieta also expressed an interest in adding more robotic process automation into HHS Accelerate once the ATO is approved. "We think that the return on RPA through the data layer that is shared across HHS is huge compared to putting RPA on existing systems," he said.

However, Arrieta said if other agencies decide to implement the techniques developed by his team without the appropriate acquisition data taxonomy, they could face challenges. His team isn't interested in developing HHS Accelerate as a shared service, but they are interested in working with other agencies to make the transition as smooth as possible using the same taxonomy.

On Dec. 12, HHS is holding a demo of HHS Accelerate to get feedback from industry on the project. Interested parties should respond to an announcement posted on FedBizOpps.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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