Group drafts smart card plan

An interagency task force working on a federal policy for smart cards published last month a draft plan to deploy the cards governmentwide during the next four years.

The Electronic Processing Initiatives Committee (EPIC) part of the President's Management Council of senior federal government executives suggested as part of the plan providing federal employees with "smart" identification cards that employees would use for multiple purposes. The contract for the cards would "expand and complement" a Federal Supply Service procurement for credit card services and may be awarded about the same time in February.

"The significance of it is the various efforts that different agencies are currently pursuing.... Using smart card technology is not going to just be local " said G. Martin Wagner associate administrator for governmentwide policy with the General Services Administration which along with the Defense Department is staffing EPIC. "We're trying to funnel [the projects] to an across-the-government smart card strategy."

Under the auspices of the National Performance Review the federal government is promoting smart cards which are plastic cards embedded with microchips as a way to expand electronic commerce and offer secure access to agency databases. The infrastructure needed to use smart cards - including card readers software platforms and the actual cards - is just emerging in the private sector however so officials want a plan to accelerate it.

After years of agencies experimenting with smart cards EPIC's draft plan is the first to propose a timetable for propagating the technology. But Greg Woods deputy director of the NPR said this timetable could easily change depending on the response it gets.

"It represents the best thinking at the time " Woods said. "As we get agency feedback we could move those up slow them down combine things. The point of getting it out there is [that] this technology is so important to so many people [that] we want to get their [feedback]."

The plan proposes that by 2001 every federal employee will have one smart card for multiple purposes such as identification and purchasing although the plan concedes that a single card might not be used for all applications. According to the plan however identification would be a "core business function" for the cards which could be loaded with commonly used name and birth date information as well as biometrics and encryption keys.

Interagency teams would be established this fall to achieve this goal. By next March the teams would develop pilots to test four applications: a governmentwide ID card digital signature applications for electronic commerce "stored value" services for making cash purchases and interagency financial transactions.

The Treasury Department started testing the latter application called the USA Card with NationsBank in August. Under the plan basic card applications would become available by November 1998 although agencies would continue testing new applications through 1999. Meanwhile agencies would work to develop technology standards and operating rules and they would propose procedures for configuration management of smart card systems by June 1998.

During the next two years EPIC the General Services Administration Treasury and other agencies yet to be determined would work together to develop prototype applications set technical standards and operating rules and provide guidelines for choosing smart card products. In addition to these "building blocks " the plan noted that "much of the legal and regulatory framework for chip cards" - defining the responsibilities of card issuers card users and the middlemen in card-based transactions - "has yet to be established."

"I think it's very ambitious " said John Moore a Financial Management Service computer specialist and co-chairman of the Federal Smart Card Users Group. In general Moore said the plan provides "a good new direction " but does not address one important aspect of agencies' potential smart card use: delivering services to individuals other than government employees.

"We really have to synchronize this with the other national agendas for card implementation " he added.Peter Ognibene a Silver Spring Md. consultant specializing in smart card technology said "there are a lot of groups" - within and outside the government - that are tackling the same issues as EPIC. A particular challenge for users and the smart card industry is agreeing on standards for interoperability he said then added "I still think we're quite some way from having that interoperability."

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