Audit prompts Treasury to seek help with ID cards

Attempts to meet presidential mandate alone risked higher costs and slow implementation, inspector general says.

Audit findings have convinced the Treasury Department to abandon its solo effort to meet a governmentwide identification card mandate and seek the General Services Administration's help.

An 18-page report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, released Friday, stated that the Internal Revenue Service's attempts to develop its own system for issuing high tech cards required under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 risked wasting money and time.

"We believe the IRS was taking unnecessary risks, not only because its costs are likely to exceed the GSA solution, but because it was taking resources away from tax administration duties," the report stated.

The mandate requires agencies to verify employees' identities and issue cards to all workers with less than 15 years of service by Oct. 27, 2007. A year later, agencies must issue the cards to all employees. Some agencies, such as GSA, have said publicly that while they will not meet the 2007 deadline, they intend to meet the 2008 target.

The audit stated that despite assigning 68 employees and contractors to produce cards, the IRS never got around to purchasing the necessary hardware and software and did not plan to complete the program until September 2010, two years after the 2008 deadline.

IRS officials failed to provide cost projections showing the agency could issue compliant cards at a lower price than GSA, the IG noted.

In response to the report, Daniel Galik, chief of mission assurance and security services for the IRS, said the agency followed the auditors' recommendation and signed up for assistance from GSA on May 18.

The move is good news for GSA, which has struggled to attract larger agencies to use its shared services offerings to meet the ID mandate. Officials hoped that if enough agencies signed up with GSA, the economies of scale would allow GSA to issue to cards at a lower cost.

IRS officials initially believed that they were in a better position than GSA to distribute the cards to Treasury locations around the country, according to the IG report. The officials were concerned that GSA's technology would not be compatible with the IRS' information technology systems. And they were worried that GSA would not be able to produce the large number of cards needed to meet hiring demands during the tax return filing season. Difficulties with the contract for GSA's shared service offering also made IRS wary of signing on, the audit stated.

Despite GSA's plans to have over 225 nationwide stations to enroll employees and issue cards, including 25 mobile stations, IRS officials were concerned about the cost and time for employees traveling to the stations, according to the audit.

GSA had produced 100 cards to help the IRS meet an October 2006 deadline for agencies to issue at least one card to an employee. But the cards contained errors such as incorrect addresses and misspellings, according to the report. This also contributed to the IRS' initial decision to produce the cards on its own, auditors said.

Agencies that are planning to implement the mandate on their own include the Homeland Security, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Education and Labor departments, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Social Security Administration.