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OMB Memo Urges Government to Leverage Externally-Issued Identity Credentials

A recent memo from the Federal CIO to the CIO's of Executive Departments and Agencies is welcome news to the advocates for federated identity management.  The memo with the subject line of "Requirements for Accepting Externally-Issued Identity Credentials" mandates that "agencies are to begin leveraing externally-issued credentials, in addition to continuing to offer federally-issued credentials."  The memo begins with the observation that the use of externally-issued credentials (i.e., those that have been issued by an entity other than the federal government) will decrease the burden on uses of government information systems and reduce costs associated with managing credentials.  InCommon is included among the Trust Framework Providers that are identified among the Approved Providers and Schemes.

This development is significant for higher education, especially colleges and universities who are members of the InCommon federation, because it will put pressure on federal government to stop issuing unique user names and passwords to students, faculty, and staff and seek ways to leverage campus identity credentials for provisioning access to computer systems and online services operated by the federal government.  

The memo is also evidence that the federal government is serious about its implementation of the National Strategy for  Trusted Identities in Cyberspace.  In a blog post The White House emphasizes the importance of the "government as early adopter" and summarizes the signficance of the OMB memo with the following statement:

This memorandum marks a new day for Federal efficiency: a citizen who is a veteran, a college student and a taxpayer ought not to have to obtain separate digital credentials at each agency website, but instead should be able to use ones he or she already has – a university-issued credential for example - across sites hosted by the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Education and Treasury.  Doing so allows the Federal government to streamline the customer experience and recognize real cost savings just when we need to be tightening our belts. Moreover, by using accredited identity providers, Federal agencies see to it that Americans’ information is treated with privacy and security online.

The memo cites the experiment with PubMed, a website of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as a successful demonstration for how this could work and notes that NIH estimates its identity management initiative will resoult in cost savings of more than $2.98 million for fiscal years 2011 through 2015.  The U.S. Department of Education is among the early targets for implementation.  InCommon has been engaged with federal research agencies in an effort to demonstrate successful deployment of federated identity management and has been pursuing InCommon integratation with federal sites such as and federating with NIH.