The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded more than $2 million in grants to the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan to test new online identity technologies to improve access to government services and the delivery of federal assistance programs, and to reduce fraud. The pilot projects support the administration's National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), which envisions an "Identity Ecosystem" that allows people to choose from an array of private and public credentials to prove they are who they say they are online.
"States have a vital role to play in the Identity Ecosystem, both providing identity credentials and relying on them," said NSTIC's Jeremy Grant, senior executive advisor for identity management. "States are ideal partners for NSTIC pilots because of the many services they offer online, and the many more they could offer online if the costs and risks involving identity fraud could be reduced."
These new state pilots complement five NSTIC grants recently awarded to private-sector organizations. Additional funding for the state pilots is provided by the Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation, which was established by Congress in 2010 to help federal agencies and state governments work together to find smarter ways to meet the demands of citizens and act as responsible stewards of taxpayer resources. Administered by the Office of Management and Budget in consultation with the Collaborative Forum of states and other stakeholders, the Partnership Fund enables federal, state, local, and tribal agencies to pilot innovative ideas for improving assistance programs in a controlled environment.
Both state pilot programs focus on giving their citizens improved methods for accessing a variety of government services.
With a $1.3 million NSTIC grant, the Michigan Department of Human Services will pilot the use of secure, privacy-enhancing online identity verification and authentication solutions with Bridges, Michigan's integrated eligibility system that supports online enrollment and registration for citizens seeking public assistance. The program will aim to help eliminate barriers citizens face in accessing benefits and services by streamlining the applications process, while also reducing fraud and improper payments. Today in Michigan, all applicants for public assistance and other services must appear in person to have their identity verified—an expensive process for the state and a burdensome one for citizens—which often results in delays to benefits. The pilot project will also evaluate how residents can more securely access their private information using multi-factor authentication solutions in lieu of passwords.
With a $1.1 million NSTIC grant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pilot will offer residents the opportunity to obtain a secure, privacy-enhancing credential to conduct online transactions with a number of participating agencies including the departments of Public Welfare and Health. Citizens will be able to register just once to access a variety of services, eliminating the need to create multiple accounts and to validate their identity multiple times. If successful, these higher security accounts will allow new types of online transactions, increasing convenience while also helping the state reduce fraud.
NIST is also awarding $300,000 to the Research Triangle Institute to evaluate the benefits and impacts of identity solutions deployed in the Michigan and Pennsylvania pilots. By advancing the knowledge gained from the pilot projects and disseminating it broadly to policymakers, state agencies, and the public, the evaluation will assist in moving forward the objectives of both NSTIC and the Partnership Fund.