NSTIC pilots will test new, unproven solutions

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology's plan to fund multi-year pilots for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace hinges on program funding in fiscal 2013, but Jeremy Grant, NIST senior executive advisor for identity management, sees the president's budget request as a vote of confidence.

"The White House has requested an increase of $8 million, taking [the NSTIC program office] up to $24.5 million for FY13," said Grant Feb. 15 at the NSTIC proposers conference at the Commerce Department in Washington, D.C. "I think that should reinforce to people that there is a tremendous amount of support for the program."

Still, Grant noted that nothing is certain until Congress comes to a decision, especially given the fact that the White House also requested $24.5 million in fiscal 2012 and NSTIC received only two-thirds of that amount.

The NSTIC program office is anticipating five to eight pilot project awards ranging from $1.25 million to $2 million each with project performance periods of up to 2 years. Initial funding would only be provided for the first year and then the second round--assuming everything is proceeding according to plan--would then be made available, said Grant.

In addition to the pilot programs, before the end of February there will be a separate federal funding opportunity for a 2-year grant for the creation of a privately-led steering group. This group will convene stakeholders, and craft standards and policies to create the identity ecosystem framework.

The pilot timeline, according to Barbara Cuthill, NSTIC grants lead at NIST, would begin with abbreviated proposals due March 7. Notifications will be given to finalists by March 22, full proposals will be due April 20 and the selections will be made in July 2012 with planned start dates at the earliest Sept. 1.

"While we've thrown out the date of January 1, 2016 [for a fully functioning identity ecosystem], we think through efforts like these pilot...we can actually start to drive some very material improvements in the very near term--I would say 12 to 18 months," said Grant.

The pilot process is critical because "the marketplace is the ultimate arbiter of a solution's success," he said.

"We're acutely aware that there have been some false starts in terms of actually gaining market acceptance for some of these technologies," said Grant.

Grant stressed that the government is interested in "funding pilots that will make something happen that otherwise would not." More than anything, the program office is seeking pilots that test new solutions, models or frameworks that don't exist in today's marketplace and could not exist without NSTIC pilot funding.

"There is no shortage of inventors and entrepreneurs who have approached our office since it was established over the last year, proclaiming that they've studied NSTIC and only, only their particular new technology would be secure enough or appropriate enough to allow the strategy to be realized...they cannot all be right," said Grant.

Grant said his office seeks pilots that could do the following:

1) Encourage transactions that cross sectors and honor other sectors' credentials;
2) Create solutions that would more easily jump start implementation of strong authentication technologies, possibly through identity exchange hubs;
3) Reduce barriers that inhibit consumer demand for credential technologies;
4) Develop a viable framework that would provide stakeholders with certainty on liability and economic issues;
5) Develop a viable framework that would provide a strong set of user-centered privacy protections;
6) Demonstrate that privacy-enhancing technologies can support viable business models, security requirements and generally accepted performance standards;
7) Encourage interoperability across multiple difference stacks;
8) Create better user-centered frameworks with the exchange of certain attributes associated with identities;
9) Promote the adoption and acceptance of trust frameworks among new relying parties;
10) Show that end-user choice can align with usability;
11) Demonstrate how advances in usability can improve uptake of strong authentication technologies; and 
12) Demonstrate the role public-sector entities can play improving uptake of user-centered technologies.

Cuthill said the pilot opportunity is not open to individuals, federal government entities or entities located outside the United States. Proposals will be evaluated based on rationality and feasibility, merit of the contribution, qualifications of the personnel and ability to deliver, and resource availability and planning. She added that previous performance on other federal awards will also be considered in the grant process.

For more:
- see more on the NSTIC proposers conference
- download the NSTIC federal funding opportunity
- go to a NIST press release on release of the funding opportunity
- download the NSTIC strategy paper

Related Articles:
NIST calls for two-tier NSTIC governance body
NIST releases NSTIC pilots solicitation
Grant: NSTIC planning proceeding despite uncertain funding