FAA workers to get smart cards

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to equip all of its employees with smart cards as part of a new pilot program.

"This will be the second-largest agency rollout," said Bill Holcombe, director of e-business technologies at the General Services Administration. "That's significant. With these congressional mandates, if the FAA does it first, we'll all be watching very closely."

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal officials have pushed agencies to bring secure identification technologies into the public sector. The Aviation Security Act requires the Transportation Department to develop a universal transport worker ID system.

"The FAA is mirroring the pressure that all the government agencies have," said Randy Vanderhoof, president and chief executive officer for the Smart Card Alliance, a nonprofit association of 185 firms that promotes the use of smart card technology.

The Defense Department began handing out the Common Access Card, a secure, multi-application smart card, in October 2001. Delaying its target delivery by a year, DOD now hopes to get the cards to each of its 3.5 million workers by October 2003.

Meanwhile, the FAA is getting ready to launch its own smart card program. Although the agency is much smaller than DOD, with about 51,400 employees, it will serve as a model for the entire Transportation Department, including the high-profile Transportation Security Administration.

The FAA expects to release a request for proposals for the pilot in the next couple weeks, said Tammy Jones, a spokeswoman for the agency.

The cards initially will have holograms and eventually will include some type of biometric technology, said Jones, adding that workers will use them to gain physical and systems access. The FAA anticipates benefits that include standardizing the process for handling badges, reducing the number of IDs issued and being able to deactivate cards when employees leave, she said.

A top priority is ensuring interoperability throughout DOT, said Dan Mehan, FAA's chief information officer, speaking May 22 at the Information Technology Association of America's E-Security and Homeland Defense conference in New York City.

GSA already has developed smart card interoperability specifications. A final version will be out this summer, Holcombe said.

"We think it's critical agencies follow the specifications to avoid ending up with proprietary systems that can't talk to each other," he said. "The government has a great foundation for them to depart from."

DOD, which began its program before the specifications were out, said it would align with GSA's specifications, he added.

The FAA "will be wise to follow that standard," Vanderhoof said. "The challenge is very significant. The issue is to marry the policy decision along with the technology decision so the architecture is workable within the way the government does business."

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