Feds back biometrics, smart cards

Federal officials told Congress April 25 that they are supporting a combination of biometrics and smart cards to identify every worker entering a federal building — using technology already available on the market.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, said it would take a year or more to enact legislation requiring every federal worker to show a tamper-proof identification card. The cost of setting up the system would run into the billions of dollars.

Nevertheless, Davis said that following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks it is essential to provide a workplace that is both secure and open. He said he supports fingerprint scans because it is the cheapest and fastest way to identify federal workers without causing long lines at building entrances.

"We know we can use brute force to keep people and packages out of buildings. Our real objective should be the utilization of visible and discreet technologies to provide adequate security," Davis said at a hearing on how the General Services Administration is using technology to protect federal buildings.

Meanwhile, GSA has been moving forward with a range of measures to protect federal buildings, according to F. Joseph Moravec, commissioner of the Public Buildings Service.

He said that every building requires a separate "package" of security tools. "We are determined not to build bunkers," he told the subcommittee.

He said the technology would vary, depending on where a federal worker wanted to go. For example, he said, iris scans could be used for a secure area within a building while fingerprint technology would be used at a main entrance because it is faster. And smart cards could be used as one of several technology tools to enhance security.

"We are going to have some combination of biometrics and smart cards," Moravec said.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry told a gathering of vendors April 24 that smart cards may make it possible to tighten security at federal buildings while cutting costs by reducing the number of security guards and metal detectors in use.

"We believe there is untouched potential for using smart cards to increase security," Perry said.

Nevertheless, Keith Rhodes, the chief technologist for the General Accounting Office, warned that technology is only one piece of a defense shield.

"Sometimes dogs can sniff out bombs better than technology," Rhodes said at the subcommittee hearing.

William Matthews contributed to this report.


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