The General Service Administration plans to scale up the Login.gov program to make digital identity verification a more equitable and secure practice after it was awarded nearly $187 million through the Technology Modernization Fund.
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The Technology Modernization Fund Board announced seven new awards last month, featuring its largest investment in a single project yet – one that may be the federal government's best shot at improving America's digital identity infrastructure.
On Sept. 30, the TMF Board announced $311 million in new awards focusing on zero trust cybersecurity projects and cross-government technology programs. Nearly $187 million of that was awarded to the General Service Administration's single sign-on shared service, Login.gov.
The cross-government identity management solution is used by 27 agencies for more than 200 citizen services, and currently has over 30 million users. However, major public-facing government programs have not implemented Login.gov.
A GSA spokesperson told FCW the agency plans to scale the Login.gov service with a focus on reducing barriers for adoption via partnerships, infrastructure and methodologies for high-impact services providers to attract larger agencies with high-profile public facing missions, like the IRS and Social Security Administration.
"Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic make it more urgent than ever for the public to gain fast and easy access to their benefits and services," the GSA spokesperson said. "The investment from the TMF will increase Login.gov's ability to continue to address the equitable identity verification technology solutions and in-person verification options for the public, while optimizing and accelerating agency onboarding and adoption."
The TMF award is designed to allow the program to perform operational enhancements around cybersecurity and fraud detection and prevention. The agency said it planned to continue scaling up the Login.gov service and its management office, including creating expanded customer support and partner-facing tools to make it easier for large-volume agencies to adopt the program.
Jeremy Grant, managing director of technology business strategy at Venable LLP and the former senior executive advisor for identity management at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), said the record-breaking award was "a sign that the government has finally realized that it will take serious investment to address deficiencies in digital identity infrastructure at scale."
An early draft of the Senate version of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill included $500 billion for a digital identity program based at the Department of Labor to supply states with identity proofing tools to improve access to unemployment insurance programs while reducing fraud. That measure did not make its way into the bill that passed in the Senate.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) introduced a sweeping digital ID bill earlier this year called the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2021. The bill seeks to establish a task force dedicated to developing new ways for government agencies to validate citizen IDs, while calling on NIST to create guidance and standards for agencies that issue digital identifications.
"It's great to see the government finally taking identity seriously from a budget perspective," Grant told FCW. "Hopefully the administration views this new TMF award as a down payment on efforts to solve digital identity issues more holistically – and develops a plan to build off this initial investment to address broader identity challenges beyond government services."
Currently, Login.gov does little at the moment to address fundamental issues around digital identification, including what analysts call the "identity gap," in which the digital world lacks a counterpart to the physical credentials issued by government agencies.
"You can't truly solve digital identity verification challenges for government programs without addressing broader deficiencies," Grant noted. "GSA has been doing some great work adjacent to Login.gov to close the identity gap by creating a toolkit any agency could use to offer identity attribute validation services – looking to leverage the government's unique role as the only authoritative issuer of identity credentials."
"Supercharging that effort should be at the top of the priority list," he added.
The program also lacks equitable identity verification tools and resources, including in-person verification methods to assist vulnerable populations. GSA said it plans to begin addressing those issues with the initial funding it receives from the TMF award.
A GSA spokesperson said the agency recognizes "the need for alternatives for remote identity verification" to make the program equitable to the entire public, and said the agency was "actively pursuing multiple avenues for in-person identity verification alternatives to the fully online experience provided today, including looking to the latest technology from the private sector."
By improving access to Login.gov through investments in more equitable identity verification methods, the agency said it will "streamline" its ability to deliver aid to the most vulnerable communities across the country.
The TMF award will initially disburse $27 million to the Login.gov program, with additional funding becoming available when benchmarks have been reached.
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