As NSTIC Turns 4…

Next month, the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace will celebrate its fourth “NSTICiversary” – marking four years since President Obama called for industry, advocates, agencies, academics, and individuals to collaborate to make online transactions more secure for businesses and consumers alike.

Over the past four years, we’ve been privileged to work with thousands of stakeholders to jumpstart an Identity Ecosystem where all Americans can choose from a variety of interoperable tools that they can use for more secure, convenient, privacy-enhancing experiences online.

With this anniversary, I’ll be leaving my role as head of the NSTIC National Program Office (NPO), off to find the next great adventure. I’m thrilled that Mike Garcia, the NPO’s Deputy Director, will be stepping into my role, and I’m excited to see what he and the rest of the NSTIC team accomplish in the next phase of this important program.

As I prepare to leave, I’ve been asked by a lot of colleagues “where do you think we are with NSTIC?”

My answer has been that the country is in a great spot. At its core, NSTIC called for the marketplace to lead in advancing the Identity Ecosystem, and the marketplace has responded.

  • Today, many of the firms we all do business with online are offering new, standards-based two-factor authentication solutions, enabled by new specifications like OpenID Connect and the Fast Identity Online (FIDO) Alliance’s Universal Two-Factor (U2F) and Universal Authentication Framework (UAF) specifications – enabling consumers to have more secure, easy to use alternatives to passwords to protect themselves online.
  • 15 NSTIC pilots have helped to catalyze the identity marketplace, impacting students, senior citizens, veterans, and consumers of all types. The pilots are collectively laying the groundwork for a vibrant new market; they are developing and deploying solutions, models, and frameworks for online identity that didn’t previously exist. And, they are informing the development of the Identity Ecosystem Framework being developed by the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG).
  • Connect.gov is launching with several agencies, ensuring that a veteran who wants to not only get access to digital services at the VA – but also access digital government applications at the State Department, GSA, and NIST – can use the same strong credential interoperably across all of those sites, without having to create a new account at each. Moreover, that credential, in most cases, won’t even be issued by the government – because connect.gov is built to allow people use a credential they already have, rather than get something new. Because of President Obama’s Executive Order this past October, other major US agencies will also soon be integrating their digital applications with connect.gov, enabling a wide new range of secure, privacy-enhancing services for citizens.
  • The IDESG is now an independent, non-profit corporation, and is making great progress toward delivering version one of an Identity Ecosystem Framework later this year. This Framework will deliver a baseline set of standards and policies that enables individuals and organizations to start using a new generation of more secure, convenient, privacy-enhancing credentials that are interoperable across the internet.

To be clear, none of these efforts takes place in a vacuum. Rather, they each are integral pieces to solving the complex online identity puzzle. And because of the progress on each, four years into the effort, we are well on pace to meeting the interim benchmarks that were laid out in the Strategy itself. In honor of NSTIC’s fourth anniversary, we will be publishing a series of blogs on standards, our pilots, Connect.gov, and the IDESG—and will be looking at the progress that has been made, as well as laying out the work still to be done. And to be clear, there is still a lot to do, and many ways for people to still get involved. But the progress that this effort has made these last few years is notable. At a time when concerns about security and privacy continue to keep the Internet from reaching its full potential, the philosophy underpinning the NSTIC is more vital than ever.

As President Obama noted when he signed the Strategy:

“The simple fact is, we cannot know what companies have not been launched, what products or services have not been developed, or what innovations are held back by the inadequacy of tools, like secure passwords, long ago overwhelmed by the fantastic and unpredictable growth of the Internet.

What we do know is this: by making online transactions more trustworthy and enhancing consumers’ privacy, we will prevent costly crime; we will give businesses and consumers new confidence; and we will foster growth and innovation, online and across our economy – in some ways we can predict, and in others ways we can scarcely imagine.”

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BREAKING NEWS: New Privacy Pilot Federal Funding Opportunity

The NSTIC NPO has just announced a new funding opportunity with a special focus on privacy enhancing technologies. NSTIC is soliciting applications from eligible applicants to pilot privacy-enhancing technologies that embrace and advance the NSTIC vision and contribute to the maturity of the Identity Ecosystem the NSTIC envisions: promote secure, privacy-enhancing, and user-friendly ways to give individuals and organizations convenience in their online interactions. 

Despite many recent improvements to the security and usability of online identities, the marketplace continues to struggle with the privacy-enhancing Guiding Principle of the NSTIC. This Guiding Principle is intended to address concerns that the development of more trusted and federated identity solutions could create risks for privacy and civil liberties, including risks that arise from the crossing of contextual boundaries (e.g., risks to privacy created by entities in different sectors linking individuals’ transactions) and the capacity for more tracking and profiling of individuals. Solutions in the identity marketplace tend to rely on policy-based mitigations to privacy risks even though, in many cases, privacy-enhancing technologies or architectural design choices could be more effective.

Barriers also exist to the implementation of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), including a lack of: protocols or standards for deployment of PETs that can be readily integrated with existing technologies in the marketplace; awareness that specific PETs exist and the types of risks these technologies can effectively mitigate; usability of PETs; and demonstrated proof of performance and scalability. Thus, the NSTIC NPO is interested in funding projects with innovative approaches to overcoming these barriers that align with all four of NSTIC’s Guiding Principles. Ideal projects will provide practical, market-ready solutions that appropriately balance policy and technical controls to mitigate specific identified privacy or civil liberties risks.

Examples of objectives that projects may strive to achieve include, but are not limited to:

  • Create and demonstrate technical standards or solutions for enabling the exchange of specific attributes associated with identities while minimizing the disclosure of incidental or non-operational personal information, including:
    • Operational technical standards or protocols to obscure intermediaries’ visibility into the identity attributes being shared in the online transactions they are facilitating;
  • Solve contextual boundary concerns that discourage user adoption of federated identity solutions such as blinding identity providers from relying parties, and vice versa.
  • Improving the usability of PETs, especially in establishing user understanding of what is occurring with user data.
  • Balancing transparency to individual users and ease-of-use.

The NSTIC privacy pilot program is new. NIST anticipates that awards will be in the range of approximately $750,000 to $1,500,000 per year per project for up to two years. For more details about the pilot program (along with deadlines and submission information), please visit http://go.usa.gov/3CSAk. Feel free to also share this important news with anyone you think may be interested!

Helpful information:

The deadline to apply is: Thursday, May 28, 2015 by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

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The IDESG hits a big milestone on the road to creating the Identity Ecosystem Framework

The Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) has been hard at work delivering on version 1 of the Identity Ecosystem Framework (IDEF). This week, the steering group hit a major milestone: meeting a March 16th deadline for developing baseline requirements for the IDEF. While this is a big milestone for the IDESG, it also marks an important moment for private sector stakeholders interested in participating in the Identity Ecosystem (IE), since the upcoming IDEF – due out this summer – will enable individuals and organizations to start using a new generation of more secure, convenient, privacy-enhancing credentials that are interoperable across the internet.

The IDEF is the overarching set of interoperability standards, risk models, privacy and liability policies, requirements, and accountability mechanisms that structure the IE. This framework ultimately provides a baseline set of standards and policies that apply to all of the IE participants. Over the last year, four IDESG committees (privacy, user experience, security, and standards)—each of which is dedicated to building parts of the IDEF—have been working toward the IDEF by developing requirements. The committees have been dutifully mapping these requirements to the IDESG functional model, which breaks down all aspects of an identity interaction. All four committees have officially submitted these requirements to the IDESG Framework Management Office, which will now work to harmonize the committees’ efforts into one cohesive deliverable.

The IDESG will soon use these requirements for its self-assessment program, set to launch this summer; organizations will be able to attest that they comply with these version 1 “baseline” functional requirements. Heading into the next phase of work, the IDESG will then determine the mechanics of how organizations will self-assess compliance.

We’re thrilled to see IDESG members hit this major milestone. This marks the fulfillment of a major goal of the NSTIC—to define what an “interoperable, easy to use, secure, and privacy-enhancing” IE really looks like. We look forward to what is next for IDESG and are proud of the tireless efforts of its staff and many great volunteers!

Follow the NSTIC NPO on Twitter for the latest updates.

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BREAKING NEWS: NSTIC NPO Announces 2015 Pilot Project Funding

The NSTIC NPO has just announced a 4th round of pilot program funding in 2015 for fresh and innovative identity solutions! The Strategy calls for the private sector to lead the development of an identity ecosystem where individuals can choose from a variety of credentials to use in lieu of passwords for interactions online. These pilots will ultimately address barriers to the identity ecosystem and seed the marketplace with “NSTIC-aligned” solutions to enhance privacy, security, and convenience in online transactions. We are excited to share this news with innovators of all kinds so they will apply for funding in order to address the toughest challenges in identity management. Pilots should create and demonstrate solutions that can help jumpstart the adoption of trusted strong authentication technologies in lieu of passwords, in alignment with the NSTIC.

Specifically, we are seeking to fund pilots that address challenges such as:

  • Concerns about the impact on privacy and civil liberties arising from the crossing of contextual boundaries and the capacity for more tracking and profiling inherent in federated identity solutions
  • The usability of strong authentication technologies
  • Balancing transparency to individual users and ease-of-use
  • Building security, privacy, and usability into commonly used architectures (e.g., RESTful API architectures) to manage access to personal data
  • Limited deployment of successful trust frameworks—especially addressing multiple sectors
  • Lack of commonly accepted technical standards for interoperability among solutions
  • Lack of strong authentication solutions that can be used across multiple sectors and relying parties (RPs)
  • Lack of clarity on liability and other complex economic issues (e.g., “who is liable if something goes wrong in a transaction?”  “How – if at all – should transactions be monetized?”)

The NSTIC pilot program was first launched in 2012, and to date has provided approximately $30 million for innovative identity projects.

For more details about the pilot program (along with deadlines and submission information), please visit http://go.usa.gov/3qEjV. Feel free to also share this important news with anyone you think may be interested!

Helpful information:

Follow the NSTIC NPO on Twitter for the latest updates.

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A Great Leap Forward: Thoughts on Last Week’s IDESG Plenary in Atlanta

Something was distinctly different last week as more than 120 people gathered, both in person and virtually, for a meeting of the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG).

Perhaps inspired by the breakfasts at the Silver Skillet diner next door to our hosts at Georgia Tech Research Institute (if NIST ever does create a Standard Reference Material for fried pork chops, theirs would be an excellent candidate), the members of the IDESG made a great leap forward toward producing v.1 of the Identity Ecosystem Framework (IDEF).

It was hands down, the most focused plenary the organization has had; attendees came out of the event with a great deal of momentum and excitement.

What was different? For starters, the organization’s members have finally reached consensus on a path forward to create an IDEF of standards and processes that will enable interoperability of secure, convenient, privacy-enhancing identity solutions online. It’s a tough challenge given the scope of the effort, and it has taken time to rally participants around a single approach. But now that the organization is there, participants have been focusing their efforts toward accelerating work to support the approach.

Each of the major IDESG committees has been focusing the last two months on developing requirements for the Framework – and in Atlanta, they shared them with the broader plenary. General feedback on this first draft from attendees was quite positive, and a formal set of baseline requirements should be finished by most committees by mid-March. That, in turn, should position the IDESG to finally unveil v.1 of the Framework this summer.

That work looks to be aided by Marc-Anthony Signorino, who was formally announced as the IDESG’s new Executive Director. This is the first time that the IDESG has a hired a full-time Executive Director—and it is a move that should help the organization mature and accelerate its pace of progress.

In addition to the above highlights, plenary attendees were introduced to the latest round of NSTIC pilots: Confyrm, GSMA, and MorphoTrust. They also heard updates from two current NSTIC pilots, GTRI and ID.me. The pilots all discussed their projects, highlighting achievements, lessons learned, and plans going forward. A media perspectives panel with two Pulitzer Prize winners was also an exciting part of the event.

These busy few days demonstrated exceptional progress and organizational maturity for the IDESG. Thank you to everyone who attended for playing an active role in the development of this organization. We look forward to continuing our work together across sectors, furthering the NSTIC vision as we develop a more secure, private, and easy-to-use online environment for all.

So, what’s next for the IDESG after this week’s big event? It’s back to the grindstone in the committees where work will focus on refining the baseline requirements, paving the way for the Framework and a self-assessment program to support it. To contribute to this foundational work, become a member of the IDESG!

Follow the NSTIC NPO on Twitter for the latest updates.

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Announcing Marc-Anthony Signorino as the new Executive Director of the IDESG!

We are excited to see the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (IDESG) kicking off 2015 in a big way. In its third year as an organization, the IDESG is gathering at the 12th plenary (January 28-30 in Atlanta), charging ahead with the creation of an Identity Ecosystem Framework that can help provide a foundation to underpin implementation of the NSTIC.

The IDESG has been fortunate to have Mary Ellen Condon serving as Executive Director for the past eight months, playing a direct role in cultivating these successful steps forward. Sadly, Mary Ellen’s time at the IDESG has come to an end, and we are all disappointed to see her go.

As Mary Ellen departs, we are thrilled to officially welcome Marc-Anthony Signorino as the IDESG’s new Executive Director. Marc-Anthony comes to the IDESG with a diverse array of experience in areas such as: cybersecurity, consumer online privacy and security, identity management issues, internet governance, and the protection of intellectual property rights. This work includes stints at the American Electronics Association (AeA), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and eBay. His diverse background positions him well to interact with our diverse stakeholders—and he has been a very active member of the IDESG itself, serving as the Secretary of its Privacy Committee.

We are grateful to Mary Ellen for all of the work she’s put into pushing the IDESG forward in her time as Executive Director. Marc-Anthony: welcome…and we look forward to seeing the great things you accomplish with the IDESG in 2015 and beyond.

Follow us on Twitter: @NSTICNPO

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Identity is the Great Enabler: Putting Patients at the Center of Health IT

Addressing Health IT privacy and security concerns are complicated. Often the focus is to zero in on a specific technical solution and leave the often more important issues – policy, privacy, business rules – for others to solve. But as we’ve seen, too many times these other issues are left unaddressed – and progress is hindered.

Identity is critical to Health IT privacy and security issues, particularly when it comes to putting patients at the center of sharing health information online. Patients and health providers both face challenges with solving the “identity conundrum” – how to validate that information is going to the right person, and that it is being done in a way that protects security and privacy.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is a White House initiative that aims to solve the identity conundrum, through a collaborative effort between the private sector, advocacy groups, public sector agencies, and other organizations to improve the privacy, security, and convenience of online transactions. NSTIC focuses not just on identity technology, but on a range of other barriers that have inhibited the adoption of stronger identity solutions in the marketplace, such as usability, liability, privacy and interoperability.

Since its launch in 2011, the NSTIC National Program Office (NPO) has worked closely with the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology to ensure that the identity solutions developed and adopted by industry align with both the NSTIC, as well as Health IT requirements.

In health, the emergence of data sharing APIs such as FHIR – and industry’s support for it – provides an ideal opportunity to tackle the privacy and security concerns regarding access to information via APIs right from the start, while the market is still in the early stages of development and standardization.

We’re thrilled to be working with ONC and a host of industry partners to support a new effort to develop profiles of commonly used identity standards for health care and other “high trust” use cases: the Health Relationship Trust (HEART Working Group). Launched in October, the HEART WG will take a patient centered approach by defining a set of security profiles that focus on securing patient/consumer RESTful health-related data sharing APIs, such as FHIR. The charter for the group can be found here.

At the core of the effort is a suite of standard and profiles that will support authentication, authorization, and consent layers:

  • Open ID Connect (OIDC) – Used to provide end-user/patient authentication information to all types of systems including Web-based, mobile, and computers.
  • OAUTH 2.0 – Allows the patient to grant access from one service or provider to another without needing to share personal identifying information between services or resources.
  • User Managed Access (UMA) 1.0 – Used to manage consent, person to person data sharing, and other authorizations.

It is important to note that these standards do not support Health IT requirements “out of the box” – what is needed is a set of profiles of these standards that meet Health IT and NSTIC requirements, so that developers have a robust toolkit to address the identity conundrum. Creating these profiles and toolkit is the focus of the HEART effort.

The HEART WG is a collaboration of the MIT Consortium for Kerberos and Internet Trust (MIT-KIT), ONC, and the OpenID Foundation; NIST is involved as well. The work will take place at the OpenID Foundation (OIDF) and the privacy and security profiles produce by this effort will become part of the (OIDF) formal specifications. MIT-KIT will implement the HEART profiles in their MitreID reference implementation. This is the same reference implementation that supports the SMART on FHIR platform today.

From a national perspective, we are excited about the potential of the HEART efforts to not only address health use cases, but also other sectors focused on the same problems. We urge members of the developer community to get involved!

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Come Hang Out With Us to Talk Identity and Innovation in Health Care

Identity is critical to Health Information Technology (HIT), particularly when it comes to sharing health information online.  Patients and health providers aren’t going to share personal information if they can’t solve the “identity conundrum” – how to validate that information is going to the right person.

We’re excited to participate with the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT in an Innovation Engagement Hangout on Google that will dive into some of the new ways developers can address the identity conundrum, leveraging new approaches spurred in part by NSTIC.  The Hangout, on December 18th at 2:00 PM, will highlight what the NSTIC NPO is doing, in concert with the private sector, to try to develop a more mature identity toolkit that will make it easier for developers to support easy-to-use identity solutions that protect and enhance security and privacy.  We’ll also touch on President Obama’s recent Executive Order 13681, which requires agencies to ensure that all agencies making personal data accessible to citizens through digital applications require the use of multiple factors of authentication and an effective identity proofing process.

The Hangout will feature Jeremy Grant from the NSTIC NPO and Eve Maler, VP of Innovation & Emerging Technology at ForgeRock, as they discuss the recent White House EO and the NSTIC vision for a vibrant Identity Ecosystem—with a special focus on how health IT startups can get involved in these efforts.

Join the Hangout: https://plus.google.com/events/cbvrl2fum6hfceoqrqookc8ltl4

Follow us on Twitter: @NSTICNPO

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Everybody Needs Identity.

Whether you are 19 or 91, protecting your identity is extremely important – particularly as identity breaches become more pervasive and affect more people worldwide. A recent study revealed the concerns about identity theft are high, with four out of five adults calling identity theft a concern, and about half calling it a “major” concern.*

Against this backdrop, the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is focused on empowering individuals to better protect their security and privacy online. Protecting and controlling our digital identities allows us to live in a safer virtual realm; if we can trust the transactions we make online, we can better realize the benefits of the digital world.

A major challenge with getting individuals to start using technologies that can better protect their identity is usability: if a solution makes things more complicated and offers little visible benefit, consumers simply won’t use it. Usability becomes even more challenging when you consider all of the different types of people who might use a solution. Differences in age, background, and abilities all may impact whether someone considers a technology to be “easy to use.”

For this reason, one focus of the NSTIC pilots has been to test how different types of consumers respond to different types of identity solutions. Collectively, the NSTIC pilots have touched students, parents, patients, seniors, veterans, online shoppers, and a variety of other demographics. One of our more exciting pilots has involved the AARP.

AARP is a nonprofit organization that helps families with life issues that are most important to them—such as retirement planning, healthcare, and employment security. As part of its mission, AARP has been exploring new ways to help its 37 million plus members aged 50 and above better protect their privacy and security with innovative methods; Jim Barnett, Senior Strategic Advisor for Digital Identity Management at AARP, explains “we want to equip our members to live their best lives.”

AARP has partnered with NSTIC pilot awardee Daon to pilot the use of Daon’s “TrustX” mobile biometric authentication solution to enable AARP members to enroll and access their personal health records in a way that is both secure and easy to use. TrustX is a cloud-based biometric solution, which allows for simple PIN, facial, or voice biometric authentication—allowing people to choose which mode works best for them.

“The pilot has been a great platform to discuss usability and secure interoperable credentials,” Barnett says. Since the AARP user base is comprised of members with varying levels of technological expertise, the need for a streamlined user experience is of key importance. “We have to make sure that anyone that comes to us online will understand this intuitively.” Interaction with every member in a natural and simple way is AARP’s ultimate goal—and the pilot program is the perfect forum for testing this goal.

The NSTIC pilot has also been instrumental in AARP’s ability to begin to understand the type of trusted identity solutions their members need. The need for an interoperable solution that every user can understand and trust—which will ultimately contribute to a better, safer, online environment for members—is the key to success. Having a range of options for solutions is also important since consumers should be able to pick a solution that fits in best with their lifestyle.

He continues to look to the NSTIC Guiding Principles for direction moving forward; Barnett emphasizes that they often turn to the Guiding Principles as a baseline for what an ideal identity solution needs to be when evaluating potential solutions. The progress already made as a result of the pilot program will be instrumental in creating additional conveniences and protections for AARP’s millions of members. Also, AARPs overall understanding of the solution needs of their member base has increased, and will continue to increase as we work together to make progress in the future.

*Centrify survey

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It’s Not Just About Security; Identity is the Great Enabler

Last week, President Obama signed a new Executive Order calling for “all agencies making personal data accessible to citizens through digital applications” to “require the use of multiple factors of authentication and an effective identity proofing process.”  The President set a deadline of 18 months for agencies to comply.

Since the release of this Executive Order, the press has focused quite a bit on how it will improve the security of government sites, and help better protect the security and privacy of citizens’ data. It’s an important point – especially because the vast majority of data breaches are executed by exploiting the weaknesses of passwords. However, the benefits of improving identity go well beyond security. What is most exciting about this new Executive Order is how it will enable government to more effectively serve the American people through a wide array of new citizen-facing digital government applications.

Since the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, the vast majority of government websites have focused on low-value or passive applications – sharing general information about government activities and answering common questions about programs. But higher-value applications that enable citizens to have a truly personalized experience (e.g. transacting business with government or obtaining personal data) have largely been mired in the offline world.

The reason has been simple: higher value applications come with higher risk, so agencies will only offer a service online if there’s an easy way to ascertain whether the “person” on the other end of a transaction is really who he or she claims to be. Twenty-one years after the New Yorker proclaimed, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” we’re still dealing with certain services being stuck in the paper world because agencies can’t reliably authenticate identities online.

There’s nothing wrong with being a “dog” on the Internet, per se – the ability to be anonymous or pseudonymous online has been a hallmark of the Internet, and must continue to be. Conversely, there are times when the ability to assert your true identity online is essential to enabling high-value services – and ensuring that someone else cannot impersonate you.

Three and a half years ago, President Obama signed the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). Targeted at the growing array of cybersecurity problems caused by passwords and other weak identity solutions, NSTIC called for the private sector to partner with government on the creation of an Identity Ecosystem – essentially a marketplace of stronger identity solutions that Americans could use in lieu of passwords to not only better protect their privacy and security online, but also to engage in new types of trusted transactions.

Identity is the great enabler here – if we have easy-to-use identity solutions that enable secure and privacy-enhancing transactions, we can enable citizens to engage with government in more meaningful ways. With a vibrant Identity Ecosystem – where citizens can use the same credential to access services at multiple sites – we can enable a wide array of new citizen-facing digital services while reducing costs and hassles for individuals and government agencies alike.

In the three and a half years since the NSTIC was first signed, the market has responded. Many private firms have started offering multi-factor authentication (MFA) to their customers, ensuring that the most commonly executed, password-centric attacks are no longer viable. And, through more than a dozen NSTIC pilots, the private sector has demonstrated material progress in advancing more secure, privacy-enhancing, easy-to-use identity solutions. It’s time for the government to make sure our own services are embracing the best the market now has to offer.

Last week’s Executive Order calls on three parts of the White House – the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Security Council – to craft a plan over the next 90 days detailing how agencies will comply with the Order. We at the NSTIC National Program Office (NPO) look forward to supporting the White House however we can as they move forward.

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