The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has tendered for a £25m identity assurance (IDA) framework to create a marketplace of providers.
The initial DWP services will be required to provide identity assurance for approximately 21 million claimants and support the roll out of universal credit.
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But the tender will put in place a framework that will subsequently be available across the public sector and as such is a key component of the plan to provide public services digitally by default.
The framework agreement will be for 18 months with the option to extend for a further 12 months.
IDA is intended to create a marketplace of suppliers, from which citizens can choose to authenticate themselves when accessing online public services.
To support the roll out of universal credit and personal independence payments, identity assurance suppliers will be selected in summer 2012 and systems will need to be fully operational from spring 2013, said the department.
In the tender notice the DWP said it is seeking identity verification services for telephone or face to face, credential management to securely manage user name, password, hard or soft tokens, grids, voice samples, memorable information, and passwords, identity correction services, and authentication services.
DWP is building interfaces to its systems for Identity Assurance that currently use standard SAML 2 profiles. The initial set of services for DWP will therefore need to be built so they can interface with this, and support authentication requests and responses in the telephony channel.
The move follows a recent tender notice from the Post Office for hardware and software which will enable it to become a provider of IDA services.
All IDA services will eventually be required to align with the cross-government standards framework being developed by the Cabinet Office. In the meantime the DWP in partnership with the Cabinet Office will provide the standards against which services will be certified, said the DWP.
Government digital director Mike Bracken said in a blog post that the DWP tender "marks the start of the formal process to create a market of identity services for access to digital public services."
Bracken said that using this approach has cut the cost of procuring IDA from £240m to £30m.
"Creating a trust infrastructure is an exciting challenge. It is a complicated subject and won’t be delivered overnight," he wrote in the blog.
"We will build the infrastructure incrementally and no doubt get things wrong as we do. But we will learn from our mistakes. The most important part will be remaining constantly focused on user need to achieve success."