GSA, Navy to test security of smart card applications

The General Services Administration and the Navy joined forces this month to develop new protocols for using smart cards.

The agreement slated to be the first of several between GSA and other federal agencies is designed to test whether a single smart card - a plastic card equipped with computer chips - can be used for applications created by different offices. According to the pact the Navy and GSA will primarily study whether their smart cards can be used interchangeably for secure access to agency networks.

Eliminating Extra Cards

"We want to make sure they really are as secure as we think they are " said Bill Holcombe a team leader in GSA's Card Technology Program Office.GSA and the Defense Department are spearheading the development of a governmentwide policy for using smart cards. Federal officials and vendors familiar with smart card technology believe agencies need to determine numerous standards for deploying it so employees do not have to carry a wallet full of cards.

"We're really not interested in having wallets bulging with [all those] cards " said G. Martin Wagner GSA associate administrator for governmentwide policy. "There are all these things we're going to have to learn " he added.

To date DOD has been the largest user of smart cards in the government and the Navy plans to use the technology on all its bases within the next year. Congress under a provision sponsored by Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.) gave the Navy $25 million for the project this year that will be used partly to purchase cards and develop kiosks where sailors and Marines can use them for various personnel applications.

"A sailor should never have to stand in line to get paid again " said Vice Adm. William Hancock deputy chief of naval operations for logistics.Hancock said vendors "beat a path to GSA's door " to supply smart card technology for the Federal Supply Service's pending fleet travel and purchase card procurement. "We'll be able to take those common packages and install them in our [Information Technology for the 21st Century] network." IT-21 is the Navy's plan to create a seamless worldwide ship-to-shore architecture for its fleets.

GSA meanwhile envisions the government credit cards it issues as the platform that agencies will use to field other applications. GSA is in the midst of a pilot project using smart cards to allow employees in its Washington D.C. headquarters to use unguarded entrances to their office building and the agency is having its top executives test how a single card can be used for identification and to charge travel expenses.

Officials promoting smart cards believe identification is the main appeal of the technology right now particularly when it comes to making transactions on computer networks. "You start needing ways of knowing who you are talking to " Wagner said.

He conceded nevertheless that it took Hancock and GSA administrator David Barram longer to sign their partnership agreement using smart cards loaded with their digital signatures than it did to put their pens to the official paper copy. "We may have to spend a lot of time on the procedural side to balance out those efficiencies " Wagner said.

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