GSA hopes smart card gains fans

The General Services Administration hopes an upcoming governmentwide program for buying smart card products and technologies will help jump-start the use of the cards by federal agencies.

The Smart Access Card program, run by GSA's Office of Electronic Commerce, will cover a wide range of smart card capabilities, including the use of cards to control access to offices and buildings as well as access to information systems.

The program also will support the use of biometric technology, which uses fingerprints or other physical characteristics to identify individuals, and the use of digital signatures for securing electronic transactions.

"Our idea is to make this technology available for government and folks trying to reinvent the government," said Bill Holcombe, director of card technology in GSA's Office of Government Policy and chairman of the Federal Smart Card Proj-ect Managers Group. GSA plans to finalize a statement of work for the Smart Access Card program this month and hopes to make an award this fall.

SmartPay vs. Smart Access Card

Although GSA's SmartPay contract, which provides agencies with a vehicle to procure credit card services, has an option for smart cards, the Smart Access Card contract is different.

"This is the first contract you come to if you only want smart cards," said Michael Noll, director of GSA's government smart card initiatives and implementation office. "This contract is for all types of smart card applications like property management, electronic purse, building access, security and training. It is a parallel effort to SmartPay." The contract will provide smart cards that are standard and interoperable across government, he added.

Security applications will help drive the adoption of smart cards, Noll said. "I think everyone is convinced the business case for smart cards is security," he said. GSA hopes the cards will increase the use of electronic commerce, improve the security of its facilities and support digital signatures - a goal of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998.

In fact, the Senate's fiscal 2000 Defense authorization bill calls for the Navy to study whether smart cards can be used to authenticate users as part of the Navy's public-key infrastructure program.

"We see the smart card not only as being a [revolution] in business affairs but as a hardware token to execute a public-key infrastructure schema," said Anthony Cieri, program manager for the Navy's smart card program office. "If we move things around digitally, we need a way to authenticate. We see the [smart] card as an enabling tool."

Some of the Navy's smart card plans include issuing them to at least one carrier battle group, one carrier air wing and one amphibious readiness group. This, along with other programs, will evaluate how smart card-based ID cards can be used to carry medical records and access personnel data from legacy systems. The Navy also is testing the use of smart cards for authentication.

John Moore, chairman of the Federal Smart Card Users Group and a computer specialist at the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, said the Smart Access Card contract should help elevate the priority of smart cards in government. "I think we'll see some important smart card applications start to happen," he said. For example, Treasury has tested an electronic currency application based on a smart card.

Bidding teams on the Smart Access Card contract are expected to include vendors specializing not only in access capabilities but also in platform and database management, public-key infrastructure services and biometric technologies.

Some cards will require a biometric capability, such as a digitized fingerprint stored on the card, for high-level security. This has the potential to give "another spurt of growth to the [biometrics] industry and perhaps one that puts it in the limelight," said Richard Norton, executive director of the International Biometric Industry Association.

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