DHS exploring 5 additional blockchain use cases

The DHS Privacy Office, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed new scenarios for the technology in a reissued solicitation.
Blocks! Chains! (xresch / Pixabay)

The Department of Homeland Security’s research arm wants to expand its current testing of blockchain technology to prevent forgery and counterfeiting of certificates and licenses.

The Science and Technology Directorate issued a five-year other transaction solicitation (OTS) through its Silicon Valley Innovation Program for proposals from blockchain startups in 2018, but agencies have since identified five additional uses.

The directorate reissued the OTS on June 9, this time for solutions specific to the needs of the DHS Privacy Office (PRIV), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

“After Phase 1 awards on the first release of this call, DHS operational components provided additional scenarios where these technologies could be used to enhance their operations,” said Melissa Oh, managing director of SVIP, in a statement. “This second release underscores the tremendous benefit of the department’s strategic investments in new commercial technologies — for both DHS and innovation communities.”


Desired blockchain programs

PRIV, CBP and USCIS highlighted five new areas where blockchain — also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT) — could be of use:

The Privacy Office wants to expand its “reduction initiative” for Social Security numbers, which will use blockchain technology to identify employees and contractors. Such technology could ensure the identifier is meaningless alone but globally unique, protective of sensitive or personally identifiable information, shareable across agencies, and interoperable with future commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products.

CBP provided three potential blockchain use cases, including one to help the agency validate data from food importer documentation to ensure illegal or harmful products don’t enter the country. Blockchain could make the process paperless, speeding up inspections so food doesn’t spoil while still applying appropriate duties.

A second CBP scenario would see blockchain streamline the complex process of tracking and tracing natural gas purchases by allowing for paperless identification of industry and government transactors, connecting import and export documents like purchase orders and bills of lading, simplifying in-bond processing, and standardizing port reporting.


The final CBP use case proposes using blockchain to assist the agency with the processing of 1.8 million express consignment and international mail shipments a day. Increasing low-value shipments require innovation to catch illicit items like drugs and unsafe beauty products entering the U.S., so CBP wants access to supply chain data earlier in the process while automating duty payments.

USCIS also proposed a scenario for blockchain to help essential workers self-identify while performing emergency response or supply chain duties remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. The use case could extend to applicants for citizenship, asylum or immigration benefits who need access to DHS offices. Blockchain could digitize vaccination records or validate travel eligibility.

Winning proposals will receive awards between $50,000 and $200,000 covering six to nine months of work with successful projects moving on through five subsequent phases with similar funding — $800,000 maximum. Phase 1 is rapid prototyping to meet the challenge, 2 further development to demonstrate viability, 3 demonstration and functional and red team testing, 4 operational testing and evaluation in multiple user scenarios, and 5 additional operational testing possibly in new environments.

“Industry is leading the way in the development of these technologies, as many see implementing blockchains and DLTs as a key competitive advantage,” reads the solicitation. “The private sector’s significant investments and the ability to adopt technologies and processes faster than the public sector has presented the government with a key decision point on how to best participate in this growing field.”

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