In an effort to improve the security and tranquility of Americans, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are looking for tech-startups and scientific talent to be integrated into DHS’ Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP). DHS and its subsidiary groups seek to find commercially viable companies to invest in, many of which reside in the same territory of SVIP–Silicon Valley. The goal is to bridge the gap between American technological innovation and the security and effectiveness of government agencies, tasked with the protection of the country.

According to the DHS, Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) have great potential to greatly enhance the US government’s ability to deliver services to organizations and citizens. In fact, DHS states that these technologies will enhance “transparency and auditing of public service operations, greater visibility into multi-party business operations, and automation of paper-based process to improve the delivery of services to organizations and citizens.”

These technologies may aide multiple Executive Agencies, such as CBP, USCIS, and TSA in the execution of their respective objectives. Currently, these agencies must issue a variety of documents, all of which are currently paper-based and effectively “susceptible to loss, destruction, forgery, and counterfeiting.”

DHS published a guidance document, entitled, Preventing Forgery & Counterfeiting of Certificates and Licenses: Other Transaction Solicitation Call, to explain the application process to become part of SVIP. This guidance document provides a range of Hypothetical Scenarios which highlight specific areas of potential improvement via technological advancements. The most reoccurring characteristics of the scenarios lie in the ability of Blockchain and DLTs to secure and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government agencies. The following are examples of the various hypotheticals provided:

  • TSA: Hypothetical Scenario I – TSA currently checks passengers through manual, human inspection by Officers at airports and intends to move towards automatic, electronic verification through the use of DLTs and Blockchain tech
  • CBP: Hypothetical Scenario II – CBP, as well as other groups, is charged with the responsibility of securing supply chains, and enforcing intellectual property rights. The given technology evidently would improve authentication and validation of organizations and individuals alike, holistically aiding the agency in their overall objectives.
  • Hypothetical Scenario III: Tribal Identity Documents for Travel – Because Tribal Jurisdictions within the US have the authority to issue documents that TSA and USCIS may accept for domestic flights, and other uses, the current system requires institutional improvements. The vast amounts of both the number of federally recognized tribes, as well as the types and variations in the documents these tribes may issue,  digital integration of the issuance, authorization, and inspection of documents, would streamline, and strengthen the typically lengthy and relatively un-secure process.
  • Hypothetical Scenario IV: Citizenship, Immigration and Employment Authorization – USCIS (attempts) to administer the US’ legal immigration system and is the agency tasked with the issuance of documentary evidence of citizenship, immigration, and employment authorization. Virtually the entire legal immigration requires an overhaul in order to enhance verification while expediting the infamous process. The application of the proposed technologies will help to integrate the multifaceted relationship amongst agencies while providing various agencies the ability to manage the lifecycle of given credentials (electronic documents) without concern of their validity.
  • Hypothetical Scenario V: Cross-Border Oil Import Tracking – Oil pipelines work similarly to private railroads, in the sense that given oil products must apply to be admitted into a given pipeline to eventually enter the US. In this instance, in relation to oil trade between Canada and the US, the current process for admission, pricing and organization is done nearly entirely manually, which is extremely complex. The introduction of the discussed technologies will enhance the associated agencies’ and parties’ ability to accurately import and apply duties to oil under the tentative USMCA. Specifically, the technology will track the evidence of the oil flow, and attribute oil imports with the accurate composition and country of origin.
  • Hypothetical Scenario VI: Origin of Raw Material Imports – Many industries rely on the transaction of raw materials, including timber, diamonds, and precious metals. Currently, CBP relies on the country of origin data from importer documentation, which makes the task of confirming the material’s country of origin extremely costly and subject to potential inaccuracy.  Additionally, when products are sourced from numerous countries it may be difficult to prove the product is compliant with the origin requirement of a free trade agreement. Technology can be a solution to illicit importers attempting to illegally import items with a false country of origins to evade China tariffs or anti-dumping duties, resulting in a major loss of duty revenue to the US. Blockchain and DLT technologies will enhance agencies’ ability to track and confirm the accurate flow of raw materials, and other similar items, from point of origin all the way to the consumer. This will ensure that imported goods come from trusted individuals, rather than terror organizations or from forced labor.

With the growing concerns over data protection and data privacy, the issue of digital security has become significantly more important.

The US government’s commitment to technological advancements and intra-agency efficiency is highlighted by their initiation of programs, such as the SVIP. In the coming months and years, we expect to see more executive agencies follow the lead of DHS in establishing specific research and development projects that scout and recruit private entities to aid in the facilitation of a more effective and efficient public sector.

This program appears to signal an influential and relatively monumental direction for the government to explore. If SVIP renders valuable results, expect more exploratory committees into technological fields that may provide opportunities to private entities that help update and improve current areas governed and managed by the public sector.