FAA preps smart card contract

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to equip all of its employees with smart cards as part of a new pilot program to improve the security of FAA facilities and networks.

The cards, which can store biometric data such as fingerprint scans and other information on a computer chip, will be used to identify workers and the resources they can access.

If the FAA program is successful, the Transportation Department could distribute the cards to the department's remaining 64,000-plus employees.

"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 use secure identification technologies. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires DOT to develop a universal worker identification system.

"The FAA is mirroring the pressure that all the government agencies have," said Randy Vanderhoof, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Smart Card Alliance.

The Defense Department began handing out the Common Access Card, a secure, multiapplication smart card, in October 2001. Following a one-year delay, DOD now plans to issue cards to each of its 3.5 million employees by October 2003.

Meanwhile, the FAA is gearing up to launch an ambitious program of its own. It will serve as a model for all of DOT, including the high-profile Transportation Security Administration.

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

The cards, which will initially have holograms and eventually some type of biometric identifier, will provide physical and logical access, Jones said. Officials anticipate benefits that include standardizing the badging process, reducing the number of ID cards and being able to deactivate cards when employees leave.

A top priority is ensuring interoperability throughout Transportation, FAA Chief Information Officer Dan Mehan said May 22 at the E-Security and Homeland Defense conference in New York City.

GSA has already developed smart card interoperability specifications. A final version will be out this summer, Holcombe said. "We think it's critical [that] 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."

The FAA also "will be wise to follow that standard," Vanderhoof said.

The agency is trying to build its program in concordance with TSA's objectives, boosting the coordination effort at DOT, he said.

"If they focus on the problem at hand in terms of identification, the rollout is not that difficult," said Tim Russell, vice president and general manager of Datakey Inc.

Still, "the use of biometrics in the government is pretty spotty now," Holcombe said. "I think the expense is not the main obstacle. It's more a question of privacy, standardization and infrastructure."


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