Trust and logistics key to standard employee ID cards

The ongoing task of issuing all federal contractors common identification cards will involve a great deal of trust and logistics, federal officials said at a credentialing conference on Friday.

In October, agencies were required to start issuing standardized IDs to all employees and contractors who access government buildings and computer systems. It will take several years to enroll everyone, observers say.

"The hard piece for us has been how to make this work," said Mario Morales, director of the ID program office at the Health and Human Services Department. The new credentials are the result of a 2004 homeland security order, known as HSPD-12, that demands each employee obtain a card by going through a background check and fingerprinting.

Federal employees and designated contractors then obtain "smart cards" embedded with tiny computer chips that contain personal indentification data. To simplify the whole concept, Morales' office just refers to it as the "ID badge."

There will be 225 credentialing stations, some mobile, to capture employees' biometric information, according to Michel Kareis, with the HSPD-12 managed-services office at the General Services Administration. She said the enrollment process takes about 20 minutes per person.

Morales cited the Office of Personnel Management as "probably the most important player" in equipping agencies with the know-how to deploy the operation.

OPM's investigative services division conducts most of the background checks for the government. Mark Pekrul, a senior program analyst in the division, said the population of uncleared federal contractors will be most affected because those people have never undergone background investigations.

Morales stressed the "trust element" of the ID program. Federal employees decide which contract employees have a "bonified need to be here," and subsequently should get a card. Contractors are not allowed to order cards for their employees.

A related trust issue: HHS' physical security department issues the cards, but only the information technology shop has the money to make the cards. The two divisions need to share information and resources.

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