GSA to test commercial/federal smart-card apps

The General Services Administration this fall will begin a pilot program to put government applications on the same smart cards that are used for commercial applications.

Marty Wagner, associate administrator for GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, said the pilot represents one way that credit cards have moved the federal government toward greater use of information technology.

"Credit cards have had more impact toward moving the government to information technology than anything else," Wagner said in his keynote address, which was delivered at the E-Gov 98 Conference held last week in Washington, D.C.

Robert Suda, the chief financial officer at GSA's Federal Technology Service, said the smart cards reside on credit cards issued as part of GSA's recently awarded $10 billion credit card contract. On one side, each card will serve as a typical Visa or MasterCard credit card, while the flip side will serve as a federal identification card that can be used for such applications as gaining access to federal buildings, using cell phones, airline ticketing and checking out equipment from federal buildings.

FTS Commissioner Dennis Fischer said the cards will be issued to his employees in November, in time to use the cards for building security applications when the organization moves to its new headquarters in Fairfax, Va., early next year. He said he expects the FTS credit cards to be issued by Citibank.

"My sense is that this technology is going to start to take off soon," Fischer said. "I want to put a card in the pocket of every FTS employee as a showcase for a new way of doing business."

Other future applications for the cards might include network security— in which users could gain access to federal networks by inserting their cards into a card reader and entering a personal identification number— and as a way to decrease the time federal employees spend filling out forms that ask for personal information, Fischer said.

"When you have to fill out a form with repetitive personal information, you could just pop a smart card into [a reader]," which then would automatically enter the personal data into fields, Fischer said.

Suda said American Airlines will participate in the pilot with an application that will allow FTS employees with smart cards to board planes without waiting in line for a boarding pass.

He added that this application already has been tested in the private sector.

Fischer said his goal for the smart cards is to allow FTS employees to act more independently without constantly seeking approval from managers.

"We want to use this chip and this physical piece of plastic to empower employees to do as much as possible, whether they are checking out books from a government library or using a commercial application," he said.

"We want [employees] to have a card that not only works with internal [GSA] applications but also on external applications that are worthwhile," he added. "This isn't going to happen overnight."

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