GSA governmentwide to feature 'master contracts'

The General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service will brief industry officials this week on its plans for a governmentwide credit card solicitation it hopes will serve as the platform for future smart card applications at other agencies.

The Defense Department expressed interest in the FSS procurement, sources said, and hopes to use it as the basis for the department's Multi-Technology Automated Reader Card program. That initiative would issue smart cards to Defense employees to cover a range of security, personnel and other applications.

Donna Bennett, deputy commissioner at FSS, said her organization plans to award "master contracts," each involving an array of vendors from which agencies will choose, to provide credit card services for travel, small purchases and fuel.

Although FSS will not ask vendors specifically for smart cards, it will "encourage" them to offer such technical advances in their proposals.

"We hope to obtain additional value-added services beyond the core set of requirements we put out," Bennett said. "In all likelihood, that would include a chip card down the road.... As long as [the technology] is within the scope of our contract, we will obtain it without starting all over again."

G. Edward DeSeve, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management in the Office of Management and Budget, said agencies ultimately will determine whether the program succeeds as the new platform for federal smart card applications.

"GSA is creating a tool," he said. "They are in some ways creating the ultimate in distributed data processing - a data processor in the hands of every federal employee. GSA is empowering us, and it will depend on agencies as to how they choose to use it."

DeSeve said the cards probably will be used first for financial applications such as ordering and paying for products.

But agencies may push to provide more complex chip-card applications for building entry, personnel and payroll information, Thrift Savings Plan records and more, he said.

FSS hopes to have the contracts in place by November 1998, at which time two of its three credit card contracts will expire. The new contracts would resemble a schedules program for credit card services in which agencies would submit task orders against a master contract.

Bennett said FSS officials will meet with industry representatives July 10 to brief them and to solicit their comments on the proposed strategy.

GSA last month sent a letter to agencies throughout government requesting their ideas on specifications for the cards and applications they might run on the platform.

DeSeve, who said he received a copy of the letter, said it may be premature for agencies to discuss applications before vendors weigh in with their solutions.

"Unless you know the technology is going to be there, you can't really re-engineer your processes to take advantage of it," he said.

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