DOD building smart card foundation

The Defense Department this week kicked off the next phase in its plans to roll out 4 million smart cards to its employees.

On May 14, DOD began upgrading and expanding the worldwide infrastructure that will enable it to issue smart cards to military and civilian employees, selected reserve duty personnel and selected DOD contractors.

This phase, which lasts until August 2002, involves installing hardware and software upgrades to the existing 1,300 workstations known as Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification System (RAPIDS).

Also during this time, DOD will add 200 new workstations to the RAPIDS infrastructure, said Mary Dixon, director of DOD's Access Card Office, speaking at the CardTech/SecurTech conference in Las Vegas. "It's a 15-month process to bring them all up," Dixon said.

DOD uses the RAPIDS workstations to issue paper identification cards, but the department must upgrade the machines to issue smart cards, which contain an integrated circuit, a magnetic strip and a bar code.

The smart cards will become the new military identification card and will also provide access to buildings and systems and will store a security hardware token to support public-key infrastructure.

The RAPIDS workstations tie into an existing database dubbed DEERS — the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. The database contains 23 million records that provide information on all uniformed service members, their families and DOD civilians who are eligible to receive benefits.

Early on, DOD struggled to reduce the amount of time it took to issue a smart card, said Rob Brandewie, deputy director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, also speaking at the conference. But the time has improved considerably. It takes about 12 minutes to issue a smart card now, which is nearly the same amount of time it takes to produce the old identification card.

DOD has issued 15,500 smart cards through its program, which is still in beta testing at 70 sites. By the end of 2002, the department expects to have completed the initial card infrastructure and to have issued 4 million smart cards, Dixon said.

DOD has purchased its smart cards from two vendors — Schlumberger Ltd. and Oberthur Card Systems — but it wants to expand its choices. "We want to engage multiple card vendors," Dixon said, adding, "we need roughly equivalent capabilities and roughly equivalent costs." She anticipates issuing another request for proposals this summer or fall.

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