GSA to push smart cards

In an effort to encourage the greater use of smart cards governmentwide, the General Services Administration plans to open a smart card office and a center where agencies can test smart card applications.

In a memo last month, GSA Administrator David Barram said he plans to issue an administrative order establishing the Office of Smart Card Initiatives, which will be responsible for "spearheading the implementation of smart card technology" in the government. The office currently is operating as a virtual office, but the order, which Barram has not yet issued, will formalize the office and bring its staff under one roof.

In addition, GSA will open in September the Smart Card Technology Center in the GSA headquarters building in Washington, D.C. The Navy, which had been considering opening a smart card test facility, will provide the equipment to showcase and test applications available on a smart card. The Navy and GSA agreed to work together so as not to duplicate smart card testing efforts.

"People on the initiatives team are from GSA, but their [work] has governmentwide implications," said Michael Noll, co-director of the smart card initiatives team at GSA. The office was founded in response to an Office of Management and Budget directive charging GSA to take the lead in smart card standardization and interoperability on a governmentwide basis.

GSA will attempt to provide as many applications on a smart card as possible, such as everything from digital cash to building access, while still maintaining the security of the user and the information contained on the card, Noll said.

The technology center will provide a good place for agencies to test multiple-application smart cards— an idea that is just starting to take off in government. In addition, "if an agency feels it has an application it's not sure of, we can try it in our center to see if it works in government," Noll said, adding that the center is not intended to be a research and development center. "This will get you thinking about applications in your agency. That's a trigger needed to get people going with this technology."

The smart card office and its test center represent another step in the continuing consolidation of the industry and in GSA's maturing role in the market, said William Barr, president of the Smart Card Forum and executive director of information networking at Bellcore.

"I think having a place where agencies can go to test the ideas they've got and look at the ideas others have is really important," Barr said. "It's easy to get caught up in projects in the abstract, and making them more real helps a lot. This is true in government and industry."

The government is beginning to pull ahead of industry in its use of smart cards, said Ben Miller, chairman of CardTech/Secur-Tech, Rockville, Md. "There is strong commitment to move the government forward [using] safe and secure electronic payment systems," Miller said. "You do that in small steps. Some agencies are moving forward quickly, [while] others are laggards."

The smart card office and the center— in addition to GSA's multibillion-dollar government-wide charge card program for purchase, fleet and travel cards— will help motivate agencies to use smart cards more, Miller said.

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