Identity card specs still in play

The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a policy guideline it issued in August 2005 for federal agencies that must comply with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. HSPD-12 requires agencies to issue secure identity credentials to their employees and contractors beginning Oct. 27.

The new policy guideline, which has become a sticking point, states that computer-readable identity credentials that agencies issue to people before their background checks are complete must be electronically distinguishable from those they issue to people with completed background investigations.

Questions about that policy's impact on the speedy implementation of the HSPD-12 program have sent the National Institute of Standards and Technology back to OMB for further clarification.

“OMB is taking input from everyone they can before they make a decision either to modify the guidance or leave it alone,” said Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance, an industry and government group interested in smart card standards.

From a practical standpoint, agencies would like to avoid issuing secure credentials twice — once when an initial background check is completed and again when all background inquiries are completed, said W. Curtis Barker, NIST program director of the Personal Identity Verification Project. Barker spoke last week at a Government Smart Card Interagency Advisory Board (IAB) meeting in Washington, D.C.

The technical specification for implementing HSPD-12 on a smart card is Federal Information Processing Standard 201, which the Commerce Department secretary must sign before it becomes binding as a federal standard. Some minor changes, however, will be made before the standard is issued as FIPS 201-1, Barker said. One of those changes involved putting the background check status indicator on the secure credential.

Industry officials are in a wait-and-see mode, Vanderhoof said. “We’re doing everything we can to try to foresee where we think OMB, NIST and IAB and others are leading so industry can be in the right place to respond as needed.”

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