GAO Innovation Lab job posts highlight the quiet push for more blockchain expertise in government

Quick Take

  • The Government Accountability Office’s Innovation Lab is seeking an interdisciplinary assistant director and an interdisciplinary computer scientist/engineer
  • The job listings are fresh as of mid-March, with both offering six-figure salaries
  • Both postings mention distributed ledger tech – which the GAO has highlighted as a possible tech for audit applications.

When visiting – the Web portal for U.S. government job posts – one might come across two listings for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that both mention blockchain.

Both are for roles at the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) Team's Innovation Lab. One is an interdisciplinary assistant director for emerging technologies and another is for an interdisciplinary computer scientist/engineer for emerging technologies. The GAO is an agency that's part of the legislative branch, serving as an auditor and watchdog for government activities. 

The posts note that, among the job responsibilities, prospective hires would:

"Identify, develop, test, and evaluate use case prototypes for emerging technologies in areas such as digital ledger (blockchain), cloud-based 'as-a-service' capabilities (including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), Internet of Things, RPA and other machine learning systems, virtual/augmented realities, and 5G technologies."

The assistant director post goes a bit deeper, adding that they would "[p]rovide technical leadership on development of prototype use cases for emerging technologies such as digital ledger (blockchain), cloud-based 'as-a-service' capabilities (including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), Internet of Things, robotic process automatic (RPA) and other machine learning systems, virtual/augmented realities, and 5G technologies.

On it's surface, this might merely be a case of a government agency seeking to fill its innovation-focused ranks to explore a range of new technologies, blockchain among them.

But past statements from the oversight agency as well as Congressional budget requests previously reported by The Block point to a possible broader line of thinking: that the U.S. government wants more expertise in the area of crypto and blockchain, and the GAO is no exception. 

In a blog post from October, the GAO's Watch Blog quoted Taka Ariga, the Innovation Lab's director. He remarked that blockchain could serve a role in enhancing the capabilities of auditors who examine larger and more complicated sets of information.

"If we ask increasingly sophisticated questions across multiple sets of data, we can now infer how the data might behave. In the user-centric environment of the Innovation Lab, by applying data science at scale and exploring emerging technologies such as machine learning and digital ledger, we will help the audit community address grand challenges," he was quoted as saying.

Another short post on Watch Blog had this to say: "These technologies could fundamentally change the way government and industry conduct business, but questions remain about how to mitigate fraud, money laundering, and excessive energy use."

Does this mean that the U.S. government is looking to build an army of blockchain specialists? Not yet, in this editor's view, but that sort of expertise-building makes sense when you consider comments like those from Rep. Darren Soto. Soto spoke with The Block in a recent interview and commented on the interest among U.S. departments and agencies in possible applications of distributed ledger tech.

"We face nearly impossible problems we have to address, and this type of technology can help us start addressing complex problems that would have been impossible to get our arms around 20-30 years ago," he told The Block.

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