Federal employees begin receiving new ID cards

A handful of federal employees received new high tech identification cards by a Friday deadline established in the presidential mandate for the badges. But it will be several years until all government workers have, and can make full use of, the cards.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, issued Aug. 27, 2004, required every federal agency to start issuing new standardized ID cards to at least one employee by Friday. Within two years, agencies must provide the cards to all government employees and contractors. Ultimately, agencies are expected to use them as the sole means of allowing workers access to government facilities and computer systems.

The General Services Administration said in a statement that it started providing credentials on Tuesday to at least one employee in each of the 38 agencies that have decided to meet the mandate by using its shared service center.

GSA is enrolling employees selected by the agencies at stations in Washington, D.C., New York City, Atlanta and Seattle, and hopes to issue about 140 credentials this week. Starting in 2007, GSA will expand to about 200 enrollment stations around the country. Ultimately, the agency is expecting to issue more than 400,000 credentials through its stations.

The Interior Department's National Business Center, which runs a competing shared service center, started issuing the new identity cards to employees in 20 agencies at the South Interior Building in Washington on Thursday. An NBC spokeswoman said in a statement that about 30 employees will receive the new ID badges by Friday.

About 300,000 cards eventually will be issued through the NBC shared service center, the spokeswoman said. The number of enrollment stations will depend on NBC's tentative partnership with GSA and discussions with the agencies using the service, she said.

Ten other agencies, including the Defense Department and the Social Security Administration, are meeting the deadline without the help of shared service centers.

The Pentagon has been issuing interoperable identity cards for years and will update them to meet the new HSPD 12 requirements, while SSA began issuing the cards for the first time last week. The agency decided to work independently from shared service providers, in part because it could save money and because it had so many workers spread out in 1,400 field offices across the United States.

The agency outsourced the cards to two companies, Probaris and RSA. David Simonetti, the senior design architect for HSPD-12 at SSA, is a contractor with Jacob & Sundstrom Information Technology Services. He said SSA essentially used the problem of 1,400 field offices as the solution.

Instead of the expense of helping foot the bill for opening hundreds of offices, he said SSA used existing space and spent $100 for a digital camera and less than $200 for a fingerprint scanner.

"We provided a whole enrollment station for $1,000," Simonetti said. He said Jacob & Sundstrom estimates that issuing the cards in house has cost SSA $16 million -- about 55 percent less than joining with GSA.

The surface of the new cards contains the employee's name and photograph. The inside has a digital identification number, a digital image of the holder's index fingers and a digital certificate that is supposed to guarantee the card's authenticity.

The IDs provided by GSA's shared service center cost $110 each, plus $52 for annual maintenance. The NBC cards will cost agencies $120 each. The first year's maintenance fee is included in that price.

The interoperable infrastructure needed for employees to make use of those cards will take years to complete. The new cards currently amount to "glorious flash passes" that employees can show to building security, because there is no way to read them electronically, said one private sector official who asked to remain anonymous.

While the new cards are technically functional, employees' old cards cannot be thrown away, said Michel Kareis, director of GSA's HSPD 12 program.

He said GSA is working with agencies using its service center to establish access systems that allow for dual processing of the old and new cards. It will be another two to five years before the full potential of the ID cards can be realized, Kareis said.

To verify that all agencies have met Friday's HSPD 12 deadline, the Office of Management and Budget is requiring agencies to e-mail a copy of the first compliant card along with the date and time it was issued, within three days of issuance.

In an Oct. 20 memorandum to agency chief information officers, Karen Evans, OMB's administrator of e-government and information technology, said that because of privacy concerns, OMB will delete the e-mail after it has noted that the agency has met the deadline. Agencies participating in the shared service programs at GSA and NBC can have the service provider submit the information on their behalf, Evans wrote.

Heather Greenfield of National Journal's Technology Daily contributed to this report.

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