Vendors to cash in on GSA deal

An upcoming solicitation for the procurement of future government credit cards could provide vendors of smart card technology with their biggest market opportunity to date.

In a draft request for proposals issued late last month the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service said that vendors who provide agencies with smart cards along with traditional credit card services will have a competitive edge over those who forgo the new technology. Companies that bid for the fleet travel and purchase card contracts - which will support purchases of $32.5 billion over five years - are not required to offer cards embedded with computer chips. But FSS anticipates agencies will want them for such applications as identifying employees authenticating transactions and tracking spending.

One Step Ahead

"The procurement gets you in the door " said Jeff Harris manager of new technologies with Intermec Government Systems Group part of an Everett Wash. company that specializes in data collection systems. "I see this as being the vehicle where smart cards will start to hit the marketplace."

Although widely used in Europe smart cards have made few inroads in the United States and vendors view the federal government as one of their most promising customers. Interest in the technology among federal users has begun to grow recently as agencies seek ways to make their data more portable and secure.

"We think the availability of this technology will encourage agencies to incorporate smart cards into their overall future plans " said Shirley Wilson director of the Card Technology Division in GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

Buying Appeal

The Defense Department which plans to use smart cards for multiple applications has already expressed interest in buying the technology through GSA. Meanwhile Wilson said a future pilot at her agency may test a combination credit/identification card that uses a chip-equipped card.

According to the draft RFP chips will not be standard features of the cards but agencies would be able to request them from contractors. The credit card industry is working on a plan to replace the current magnetic stripe format of today's charge cards with smart cards and Wilson said "the commercial marketplace will set the pace" in this area.

The draft RFP says that for the "near term" the government probably will want to purchase "hybrid" cards that contain magnetic stripes and chips. FSS plans to issue a formal solicitation at the end of July and award contracts in December.

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