US federal agencies start small on smart ID cards

Several federal agencies said they will meet an Oct. 27 deadline for starting to issue smart ID cards to workers, but some of the initial rollouts will involve only a small number of cards.

Several federal agencies said this week that they’re ready to start distributing smart ID cards to workers by Oct. 27, as mandated by a directive issued in 2004 by President Bush. But some of the initial rollouts will be very small and will focus solely on controlling access to buildings – not IT systems.

For instance, the U.S. Social Security Administration became at least technically compliant with the directive this week when it issued one of the new ID cards to Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart.

SSA spokeswoman Kia Green said the agency expects to hand out more cards in the coming weeks but is “still in the process of finalizing the details.” She added that the SSA hopes to issue cards to all of its employees and contractors by the end of September 2008, which is the deadline for doing so.

Another agency that said it will meet this week’s deadline in a small way is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA plans to issue the so-called personal identity verification, or PIV, cards to “a small handful” of employees, said spokesman Dale Kemery. But he added that because of budgetary and technical considerations, making the ID cards available across the 18,000-worker agency will be “a fairly long rollout.” He declined to provide more details.

Matt Neuman, director of business development at Jacob & Sundstrom Inc., a Baltimore-based systems integrator that is helping the SSA with its smart-card implementation, said that many agencies appear to be ready to meet “the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the law” on issuing the PIV cards. “But it at least shows that everybody is focused on it,” he said.

The use of PIV cards for verifying the identities of all federal workers and contractors was mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12. The unfunded HSPD-12 mandate specified that agencies adopt a common identification credential for access to both government facilities and computer systems.

The Oct. 27 deadline and an earlier one calling on agencies to develop procedures for verifying the identities and backgrounds of all workers by last October were both considered exceptionally aggressive because of funding issues and the technology and process changes that are required.

Robert Langston, director of the office of security and emergency planning at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said last week that HUD hopes to begin producing fully functional PIV cards by Wednesday “and then continue to do so for all new employees and contractors from that point forward.”

Initially, the cards will be issued to HUD’s headquarters staffers via recently procured identity management and card management systems, Langston said. He added that “a small number” of HUD field staffers who work in Washington, New York, Atlanta and Seattle will be sent to shared HSPD-12 enrollment centers that have been set up in those cities by the U.S. General Services Administration.

The enrollment centers include systems that can be used to verify the identities of employees, fingerprint and photograph the workers, and issue PIV cards to them. Eventually, as many of HUD’s 81 field offices as possible will take advantage of the centers as more are deployed across the country, Langston said.

The strategy should help HUD save “a lot of money” on its PIV enrollment and card-distribution costs, according to Langston. Instead of having to set up its own enrollment facilities, he said, “we just pay a fee for service.”

Larry Orluskie, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the DHS next week will start rolling out PIV cards to about 5,500 employees in the Washington area. The agency’s goal is to make the cards available to all of its employees and contractors within a year, he said.

The DHS is using smart cards called ID One Cosmo that are made by Nanterre, France-based Oberthur Card Systems SA. Like all PIV cards, Oberthur’s feature both a contact interface and a contactless radio frequency interface in order to make it easier to integrate the cards with both building access and IT security systems. At the DHS, though, the cards initially will be used only for physical access, Orluskie said.

Likewise, the SSA at first will use PIV cards only to control access to buildings and other facilities before eventually linking them to its computer systems, Green said.

ActivIdentity Inc. in Fremont, Calif., is supplying smart-card technologies to several government agencies. Robert Brandewie, the company’s senior vice president of public-sector solutions, said meeting the HSPD-12 card-distribution deadline even in a small way “is a tremendous accomplishment,” given the amount of work that was needed and the relatively short amount of time that was available to agencies.

“There has been a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes effort to get the infrastructure ready and to get the technology in place to meet the deadline,” Brandewie said.