E-authentication gets a new focus

With HSPD-12 on the rise, OMB cuts funds, plans fee-for-service model

The Office of Management and Budget has directed agencies to reduce their contributions to the E-Authentication initiative by half for fiscal 2007, signaling another change in direction for a project many believed was the key to making e-government less about consolidating Web sites and more about transactions.

Agency sources confirmed that OMB’s budget guidance passed back to agencies detailed how much each department would contribute for every e-government project, and E-Authentication is taking one of the biggest hits.

Last year, the General Services Administration, which runs E-Authentication, collected about $10.5 million to run the program office, according to an OMB report to Congress on e-government in March. Every agency except GSA kicked in $450,000; GSA paid $631,000.

For 2007, OMB told agencies to contribute less for two main reasons: Because of Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, the administration no longer considers E-Authentication as necessary for internal agency applications as it once did, and officials want to move it to a fee-for-service model by 2008.

HSPD-12 requires agencies to issue smart identification cards to employees and contractors. Each card includes a digital certificate, which could be used for physical and logical access. Agencies are spending millions of dollars setting up the infrastructure to handle HSPD-12 cards.

"This is not a static world. … We look at all requirements and all the planned activities, and we map that against the planned priorities."
Karen Evans, OMB

“Internally, HSPD-12 has replaced E-Authentication,” said a government official who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the budget guidance. “Agencies are not demanding e-authentication for applications.”

This is the second refocusing of E-Authentication. In 2003, OMB abandoned the idea of a centralized gateway and went with a federated approach.

While White House officials would not comment on the program’s budget, Carol Bales, OMB’s E-Authentication portfolio manger, said there is overlap between the two initiatives.

“We are in the process of establishing a business model team that is going to look at both of those initiatives to see what changes are necessary with respect to the E-Authentication processes,” Bales said. “Now that agencies have experience in implementing e-authentication, we are turning our attention to the kinds of services that are really in high demand by the public. Building e-authentication into high-volume, high-visibility online services that the public depends on is really where e-authentication will prove its value.”

More transactions

Since March 2006, the number of e-authentication transactions has increased from less than 2,000 per month to more than 18,000 per month, Bales added.

Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, said decisions on funding are made by the project’s governance board based on how they think the project should move forward.

“This is not a static world. ... We look at all requirements and all the planned activities, and we map that against the planned priorities going forward in the president’s budget,” Evans said.

Even with the proposed funding changes, industry experts believe E-Authentication and HSPD-12 are not mutually exclusive.

Eric Longo, business development manager for RSA Security Inc.’s federal practice, said E-Authentication is critical because it standardizes the back-end infrastructure that HSPD-12 will run on for logical access.

George Schu, VeriSign Inc.’s vice president for strategic development, said HSPD-12 will make E-Authentication a stronger part of the federal agencies.

“HSPD-12 will be a forcing function to cause more e-authentication to happen in government,” he said. “Now people will have a stronger form of authentication in their hands and will need E-Authentication services.”

One CIO, who also requested anonymity, said HSPD-12’s prevalence could make it harder to justify the cost of implementing Security Assertion Mark-up Language, on which E-Authentication is based.

“It is a tough sell to SAML-enable a particular application and abandon a password directory that will take six months to complete,” the CIO said. “What is your [return on investment] when people have HSPD-12 cards shortly after that? You have to consider your risk, costs and how you will save money.”

Additional changes

Along with the E-Authentication funding directive, OMB also detailed some other changes to e-government and the Lines of Business Consolidation efforts.

Sources said OMB decided to use the E-Training project to standardize IT security training under the Security Line of Business.

“There is some concern that agencies making the investment to provide training courses will not have the customer base to pay for it,” said a senior government official. “OMB needs to get the private sector involved.”

OMB has yet to name the Security LOB shared-services providers, but likely will decide on the six agencies that submitted business cases when the president’s 2008 budget request comes out in early February.

The six agencies that want to be shared-services providers are the departments of Homeland Security and Justice, Treasury’s Bureau of Public Debt, the Agency for International Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Personnel Management.

Aligning with the LOB

OMB continued to tell agencies not to spend development, modernization or enhancement funds for human resources, financial management or grants management systems unless OMB approves the request, another agency IT official said.
Another agency IT official added that OMB offered more instruction about the IT Infrastructure Optimization LOB.

“Agencies were told to start accelerating optimization of their networks and begin to align with the LOB,” the official said. “OMB basically is saying the LOB is coming, and be prepared.”

The official added that it seems OMB has learned its lesson and is doing a better job than previously in managing the IT Infrastructure LOB.

Over the next year, GSA will hire a vendor to develop minimum standards and determine best practices for desktop configurations, which include workstations, printers, scanners, software, and desktop support personnel as well as help desk services.

“Desktop is one of the easiest ones and should lead to consolidation around desktop support or data centers in 2008 or 2009,” another IT official said.

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