Navy tapped to lead DOD smart card efforts

Language in the Senate's Defense authorization bill for next year would make the Navy the lead Defense Department agency for the department's smart card program and would give the Navy up to $30 million to field the technology.

The Navy has been one of the leading government agencies in using smart cards. It has issued them to at least one carrier battle group, one carrier air wing and one amphibious readiness group. These uses, along with others, will evaluate how smart card-based identification cards can carry medical records and access personnel-related data from legacy systems. The Navy also is testing how smart cards can be used for authentication.

"I think we're pleasantly surprised that the Congress thinks enough about what we are doing to put this into law," said Anthony Cieri, program manager for the Navy's smart card program office. "Organizationally, [this legislation] would bring about its fair share of new things, but as far as collaboration [across DOD], we have that now."

The existing smart card technology office in DOD is set to disband at the end of this fiscal year unless legislation is introduced to keep it going.

The bill (S. 1059) also:

* Calls for the secretary of Defense to establish a coordinating group made up of senior representatives from the four armed services to develop interoperability standards.

* Directs the Army and Air Force to establish smart card offices.

* Requires the Navy to implement regional smart card programs involving Navy and Marine bases.

* Allocates up to $5 million each for smart card demonstration programs for the Army and Air Force.

* Requires DOD to conduct a study and submit a report by the end of January on the potential benefits of using smart cards for authenticating and securing electronic mail and other communications

* Allows the secretary of the Navy to allocate additional funds to convert paper-based records to electronic form for records systems that have been modified to use smart card technology.

In the report accompanying the bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee said it is "pleased with the Navy's efforts to develop and implement smart card technology." It encourages the Navy to "expand upon its existing program and begin to roll out smart card technology across the entire department."

The bill is positive news for smart card programs across government, said Michael Noll, director of the General Services Administration's government smart card initiatives and implementation office. "In terms of the federal government, it's really time we started putting dedicated funding against smart cards if we're serious about smart cards," Noll said. Last year GSA and the Navy opened a technology center for agencies to test new smart card applications.

John Moore, chairman of the Federal Smart Card Users Forum and a computer specialist at the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, said giving the Navy up to $30 million for smart cards is a "significant undertaking."

"I think it is one heck of a significant step," said Bob Bucceri, president of Chaddsford Planning Associates, West Chester, Pa. "For someone to stand up and say, 'We're going to designate an agency to take the lead in the department,' is significant because now someone is in charge."

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