PKI is gradually making its mark in e-gov

Agencies are feeling the heat from the Bush administration to get to green on electronic government.

For many, that could mean building a public-key infrastructure.

In a recent GCN telephone survey, 53 percent of IT managers polled said their agencies are using PKI now. And 21 percent of agencies without PKI said they are planning to roll it out in the next 12 months.

Not everybody is on the bandwagon: 58 percent of managers whose agencies don’t use PKI said their organizations have no plans to adopt the technology in the next year.

“We don’t see a need for it,” said a systems manager for the Court of Federal Claims in Washington.

“It’s not a priority yet,” said a Smithsonian Institution IT manager in Washington.

But those who use PKI or have plans to deploy it told us that the challenges are abundant. Some said user training is a hurdle. Others cited resistance to change and to new technologies.

“Getting people to accept new technologies is a challenge,” said an information services branch chief for the National Guard in St. Paul, Minn.

State and local IT managers face similar cultural obstacles.

The biggest PKI challenge for an IT director in the city of Baton Rouge, La., is “getting management to understand it.”

For an Army network administrator in Tennessee, the primary problem is “the higher-ups arguing about developing it.”

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“Getting it out of committee” is the main stumbling block, said a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration system administrator in Maryland.

Other managers said implementing PKI is a question of resources.

A Social Security Administration Wage and Hour Division IT coordinator in Phoenix said his organization has no plans to implement PKI in the next year because of scarce funds. “We are a hand-me-down agency,” he said.

“It’s hard to find enough skilled workers and contractors to implement the PKI infrastructure,” added a NASA information systems specialist in Washington.

Nearly half of current users—48 percent—combine PKI with other security technologies, such as smart cards or biometrics.

“We’re using smart card access to both buildings and computers,” said a Navy IT manager in Panama City, Fla.

“In the future, we might combine thumbprint readers with our smart cards,” said an Air Force computer specialist in Ohio. Installing the hardware for the readers will be the biggest challenge, he added.

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