Smart card use grows

Federal agencies are moving toward large-scale adoption of smart cards for identification, according to the latest survey from the Government Accountability Office.

"We're seeing a trend toward larger, agencywide smart card projects," said John de Ferrari, GAO's assistant director of information management issues. "Since we reported in 2003, about half of [the ongoing projects] have been terminated. Many of them were pilot projects or they were specific projects in small agencies, offices or divisions."

GAO auditors said that agencies have added 10 projects since the 2003 survey, which tracked 52 smart card programs. In the report released this week, seven large agencies still do not have smart card projects, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Energy Department, the National Science Foundation and the Small Business Administration.

The survey was prepared for the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee.

Smart cards are credit card-size plastic devices that contain a computer chip capable of exchanging data with other systems and processing information. Unlike debit and credit cards, smart cards do not use strips, which can be deleted or changed. And smart cards have so-called three-factor authentication, a system requiring users to present a smart card, enter a password and verify a biometric scan.

Newer cards can accommodate 64K, enabling users to track itineraries, link to medical records or store cash. Notably, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority uses smart cards for fares and parking fees.

Between December 2004 and December 2008, officials at five agencies -NASA, the Defense Department, the Homeland Security Department, the Interior Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs — are planning to make an aggregated purchase of up to 40 million cards through a GSA contract. One of the largest agencywide efforts is DHS' identification and credentialing project. DHS officials plan to issue 250,000 cards to employees and contractors for three-factor" authentication.

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