Agencies miss deadline for ID card mandate

No federal agency will meet a deadline this weekend to complete background checks and to begin issuing employee identity cards that will control access to federal buildings and computers, the top information technology executive at the Office of Management and Budget said Friday.

Agencies were required to complete by Oct. 27 background checks for employees and contractors who have worked for the federal government for 15 years or less and to begin issuing new identity cards that include employees' fingerprints. The cards would control what federal buildings employees could access and what computers employees could log on to.

The new identity cards, which will replace the standard employee flash-card badges, were called for under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which President Bush issued in 2004 to provide a common identification standard for federal employees and contractors.

In all, about 1.9 million federal employees and 591,358 contractors require credentials. As of Friday morning, 97 percent of federal employees and 79 percent of contractors had completed the required background checks, and federal agencies had issued 1 percent of the new cards, said Karen Evans, administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology at OMB.

"[Everyone is] asking, 'Did you make it?'" Evans said during a media conference call Friday. "The short answer is, no -- we did not make it."

Evans said the deadline was reasonable. "The milestone was to hit this, and we didn't, so we're holding ourselves accountable," she said.

Unexpected technical difficulties caused agencies to miss the goal, Evans said. The identity cards are produced and then sent to the General Services Administration for testing. If problems are found during tests, agencies have to spend time to fix them.

The Education Department -- which started in 2005 to develop the processes needed to conduct background checks for its 4,452 employees and 1,004 contractors -- encountered technical issues with existing networks. For example, the department could not complete the certification and accreditation of the computer systems that would store the needed data until the fourth quarter of 2006, said Winona Varnon, director of security services at Education. The department had to juggle funding until components could be procured.

The department also had to retrofit and upgrade existing identity access systems in buildings to meet HSPD 12 standards. Other delays occurred in June 2007, when guidelines for the topography of the card changed. "That meant whatever components we started with we had to change," Varnon said. "It's been difficult. If anyone says it's easy, I'd love to sit down and talk to them."

To push agencies to meet the ID card mandate's goals, OMB plans to issue quarterly reports on progress until the final deadline of Oct. 27, 2008. That is the date when all federal employees and contractors -- including those employees and contractors who have worked for 15 years or more with the government -- need to have background checks completed.

Evans said the first quarterly progress report will be available in December. Previously, agencies reported their progress by posting reports on their Web sites.

The Government Accountability Office plans to issue a report in February 2008 on selected agencies' progress in using HSPD 12 compliant cards to enhance security and how the cards work with other agencies, said Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at GAO. The report will be made public about a month later.

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