Blockchain advocates on a June 5 panel warned that the United States could be falling behind other countries on the technology.
The discussion at the ACT-IAC Emerging Technology Forum identified two central problems hindering more widespread adoption of blockchain in the government: a lack of funds from the government and a lack of understanding from policymakers about the technology.
“We’re at a stage where we’re trying to get beyond bitcoin,” said Bill Rockwood, staff co-chair of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus. “Everyone’s seen bitcoin in the news, the market volatility, what is it used for and why those things are important. I think people often conflate bitcoin and blockchain and it’s very hard to separate the two, especially when you’re dealing with members that, you know, didn’t grow up with smartphones or … they have trouble with email.”
Alan McQuinn, a senior policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), called for the government to invest more money into blockchain, pointing to other “foundational technologies” that the government was involved in creating, like the internet and the cellphone.
But right now, McQuinn said, federal money allocated for blockchain technology is a “rounding error of a rounding error of a rounding error.”
“We really need to start thinking about how we can be competitive,” McQuinn said.
Blockchain technology can have immediate security benefits for the government, McQuinn said. Land registration through the government agencies is one example.
“You have a network where people often have to submit paper files that can be faked and then it’s up to the government agency to decipher whether something is real or not,” McQuinn said. “Blockchain offers the ability to create this much more fundamental auditing process.”
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Blockchains for record keeping can be an important security measure because “public blockchains enable permanent, time-stamped records of transactions that are auditable to everyone but cannot be changed by any single party,” according to an ITIF report from April.
McQuinn also said blockchain could help agencies with complex supply chains, like the Defense and State Departments.
While much attention is focused on the trade war between the United States and China, the Chinese government has taken steps toward blockchain development, backing the creation of a blockchain-centric city, according to cryptocurrency news site Cointelegraph.
At the end of last month in a speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised blockchain technology, calling it a “breakthrough.”
Jason Brett, founder of the Value Technology Foundation and board adviser at the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, said the United States needs to wake up when it comes to blockchain.
“My personal belief is that the United States has a problem with this new emerging blockchain technology,” Brett said. “And it’s not cryptocurrency. What it is is us potentially losing the blockchain race to other nation states and other foreign countries.”
As blockchain develops, Brett said the U.S. government needs to lead the advancement of the technology.
“Is it possible that this might happen where another country could end up with this technology over us? Let’s not find out,” Brett said. “Because we’re the United States. We were on the forefront of the internet, and a lot of the internet and work we do today is all U.S.-based and has open standards for free societies, and that’s a critical part of this discussion.”