GAO finds gaps in secure credentialing

Auditors warn that agencies might miss the program’s October deadline

GAO report: “Electronic Government: Agencies Face Challenges in Implementing New Federal Employee Id

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Congressional auditors are concerned that federal agencies lack sufficient guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on how to conduct background checks on foreign nationals before issuing them computer-readable identity credentials. Beginning Oct. 27, agencies must issue smart cards to federal employees and contractors.

Government Accountability Office auditors warn in a new report that the federal government might miss the October deadline. The GAO report also questions whether the federal government can accomplish the major objective of the secure identity credentialing program: a standard credential that authorized employees can use to access federal facilities and federal information systems.

OMB has agreed to let some agencies meet the deadline by implementing transitional smart card systems that don’t fully meet the technical standard, known as Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 201. OMB has not set a deadline for agencies using transitional systems to adopt the FIPS 201 standard.

Meanwhile, agencies face significant management challenges in testing and buying smart cards and card readers that meet the FIPS 201 standard. GAO is also concerned that agencies will struggle with budget uncertainties and unknown costs.

The auditors criticize OMB for providing incomplete guidance on how FIPS 201 applies to securing federal facilities and information systems and to verifying the identities of federal employees and contractors. “We disagree with GAO’s assertion that our guidance is ‘incomplete,’ ” wrote Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB, in a letter.

GAO recommended that OMB’s director monitor agencies’ progress in complying with the FIPS 201 standard by establishing reporting procedures. Evans said OMB would monitor the program using its existing management and budget tools.

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