When You Build a Bridge from Both Sides


Sam EcklandDon Thibeau sent me an article this week from John Battelle’s Searchblog entitled, “What Doesn’t the Valley Understand About Washington?” Answering that question is a large part of what comprises my work at McBee Strategic, which is helping guide innovative companies, ideas, and technologies through Washington’s legislative, regulatory, and communications gauntlet in order to connect them with opportunities for growth. Often times the entrepreneurial, forward-looking spirit of these entities is hesitant to engage with a federal government viewed as stiff and reactionary. The truth is that through a variety of mechanisms the federal government can serve as a key stepping stone to turn pioneering ideas into the new norm. I, along with many others, believe the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) has the potential to do just that for online identity.

How we get from the current state to the end game envisioned in the NSTIC, however, is no easy task. Since the April 2011 release of the NSTIC, the federal government – namely the NSTIC National Program Office in the National Institute of Standards (NIST) – has maintained that private industry must lead the development of the Strategy and its corresponding governing body while the government can enable its adoption. But after seeking public comment on the development of public-private governance regime, many private sector stakeholders seem frustrated with the lack of actionable direction NIST has given for actually standing up a governing body to execute the NSTIC in its February publication, Recommendations for Establishing an Identity Ecosystem Governance Structure, and in subsequent NIST-driven meetings.

For fear of the NSTIC rapidly devolving into yet another techie vs. Beltway cliché, the OIX Board of Directors has tasked its Advisory Board to bridge the gap – to develop a concise set of recommendations for advancing the development of an NSTIC governance structure with the multipurpose goal to not only provide the National Program Office with a critique of next steps to their Recommendations document, but also to ground the still-abstract notion of NSTIC governance policy in concrete actions to help retain the value proposition for industry to stay engaged with the NSTIC development process.

What has intrigued me so far in the process is the Advisory Board’s approach to building that bridge – quite literally standing up the foundational structures of a governing body, piece by piece. For this, the Advisory Board is wrestling with the ABCs: Articles of Incorporation, By-laws, and Charter.

The Advisory Board has started with the expansive charter put forth in the NIST Recommendations, working to distill the charter document into essential principle-level guidance, while extracting the more detailed elements from it to include in recommendations for by-laws. Encompassing all of this is the existential question of what type of legal entity structure (or articles of incorporation), if any, would be best suited to achieving the rapid privatization of the NSTIC management that both industry and government support. Every new governing entity must answer these questions, mundane as they seem, in some shape or form upon its inception. With its recommendations, the OIX Advisory Board aims to lessen the friction of institutionalization in order to allow the governing board to get to down to business as quickly as possible on whatever endeavors it might prioritize first.

One of the fundamental premises John Battelle cites that Valley doesn’t understand about Washington is: “the framework of ‘us vs. them’ is unproductive and produces poor results.” Washington knows the privacy, security, and efficiency of online identity management can be improved. Washington also knows that only the private sector has the know-how to find solutions. There may be hiccups along the way, but the access, legitimacy, and future market the US government can enable through the NSTIC is too lucrative to give up without a concerted effort at working together on the first stage of the process.

For industry, the OIX Advisory Board exercise provides a peek into the nitty gritty of policy making. For the NSTIC NPO, it is another opportunity to glean private sector priorities and direction for next steps. I look forward to seeing what recommendations the diverse selection of expert minds on the Advisory Board bring forth, and I look forward to working with the Advisory Board to translate those recommendations into a message that both private and public sectors can rally around.

Sam Eckland is an Associate at McBee Strategic.