Smart ID card gains support

The Defense Department's Smart Card Office is expected to recommend this summer that all military identification cards be replaced with smart cards despite past reluctance to make that move.

Speaking at DOD's Electronic Commerce Day conference in Washington, D.C., this month, Martha Neal, deputy director of the DOD Smart Card Office, said she plans to make the recommendation before Sept. 30 to the senior steering group to which her office reports.

Smart cards have the potential to replace not only military ID cards, but also government driver's licenses, weapons cards, library cards, meal cards and others, Neal said. What makes smart cards attractive is that "the technology for most DOD functions is commercially available," she said.

The Realtime Automated Personnel Identification System, the workstation that currently produces military IDs, can be upgraded to produce smart cards. RAPIDS supports the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, a huge database of information about service members and their dependents.

The Navy already is using upgraded workstations to produce ID cards and smart cards in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. It is adding new printers and making changes in the software to produce the new cards, said Anthony Cieri, program manager of the Navy's Smart Card Program Office. "We agree with the strategy of a single card to authenticate and identify yourself," Cieri said. "We see the card as a natural choice to eliminate all the various identification cards we carry around."

Other agencies are heading in this direction. Employees at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service are testing a single smart card that combines a personal identification card and a government credit card. Employees will use the card to enter buildings and log on to their computers, among other applications.

"I think it's a great idea to have a chip on the card because there will be so much you can do with it," said Bill Holcombe, the director of card technology at GSA and the leader of the GSA project. "You can roll out all kinds of applications to the folks that have them."

The proposal to replace the military ID card with a multifunctioned smart card has been bandied about for years, but there has been reluctance to change the current process.

The idea of a single smart card used not only for identification but also for logistics, finance deployment and other applications "was too big a pill to swallow" in the mid-1990s, when the idea was being promoted, said Michael Noll, co-director of GSA's smart card initiatives and implementation team."I think there is terrific potential to make an identification card with a chip on it and have additional functionality incorporated" other than just personnel and benefits information, he said.

The cost of smart cards has been falling and will continue to fall over time, which makes them attractive, Neal said. For example, a card that holds 64K worth of information is expected to cost about $3 per card in 2003. Today that same card costs about $9.

DOD is sponsoring about 45 smart card demonstrations. Still, it is essential for DOD leadership to formally make a decision to use smart cards departmentwide in order for their use to truly take off, Neal said.

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