Smart Cards Set to Land In Government Hands

Smart Cards Set to Land In Government Hands<@VM>GSA's Picks: The Five Smart Card Prime Contractors

By Patience Wait, Staff Writer

Maximus Inc. is the first company out of the gate in the General Services Administration's $1.5 billion Smart Card program, winning a soon-to-be-announced task order from Veterans Affairs.
The VA tapped Maximus of McLean, Va., to supply 200,000 encoded patient identification cards as part of a $3.7 million award. Cards will begin going out in January, and all cards will be issued by late June.

The award is the initial implementation of a national smart card launch for the VA, which provides benefits to 3.6 million veterans, said Kent Simonis, director of health administration services at the VA. There also are another 900,000 veterans who are enrolled and eligible for benefits.

While the VA order was the first out of the chute for the GSA contract, other task orders are in the works.

An award is expected by the end of December on a Defense Department project to issue 1.3 million smart cards, said John Gist of Logicon Inc. of Herndon, Va., another contractor on the GSA deal. According to the request for proposals, the Defense Department wants to start issuing cards in January.

In addition to Logicon and Maximus, other companies on the GSA contract include Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, and KPMG Consulting LLC and Litton-PRC Inc., both of McLean, Va. A smart card is a plastic, credit-card-size card that contains one or more embedded semiconductor chips, giving the card memory, security and processing capabilities.

The planned Defense Department card ultimately will be distributed to more than 4 million people, said Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Department Access Card Office. The card will be compatible with more than 3 million computers and will be issued at about 800 locations worldwide.

Dixon said a pilot program involving 50,000 cards started in October at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va.

"This [upcoming] order will be the production card," she said. "We've asked for sample cards after award of the contract to test them and make sure they meet specifications. Then we will order over a monthly basis."

A key to the sudden flood of purchases is the development last summer of an interoperability standard by GSA and the five companies awarded the contract, according to industry and government officials.

The purpose of the standard was to establish a baseline of performance across all federal agencies, while allowing individual agencies to include requirements that go beyond the standard. Both the VA task order and the Defense Department pending task order incorporate the new standard.

The VA card has three primary applications, Simonis said. It will provide express registration, where the veteran's enrollment, eligibility and patient registration information is on the card. This will keep veterans from going through redundant registrations at different VA facilities.

Second, the card will contain limited medical information, such as drugs prescribed, allergies and "advanced directives indicators," such as whether the veteran has a living will and who should be called in an emergency.

Finally, the card will include the use of digital certificates, or electronic signatures, for Web-based applications.

The Defense Department, by comparison, has similar information requirements for its version of the smart card, but the contents would be tailored to military procedures.

The prime contractors see the development of the standard as critical to opening up the federal smart card market and laying the groundwork for commercial markets.

"Championing an interoperability standard is exactly what needed to take place. GSA was pretty smart about it. I think all five primes bonded together over the summer and shed their 'I've got to have it [my way]' approach," said Jack Cassidy, senior manager and national director of smart card solutions for KPMG Consulting.

"If the federal sector does this correctly, I think we can [set the standard] for the nation. It's not without precedent that the federal government leads from time to time, both socially and in technology," Cassidy said.

"We see the government as one of the real catalysts for opening up the North American market," said John McKeon, vice president of smart card solutions for 3-G International Inc. of Springfield, Va. His company was one of the five original prime contractors until Maximus this year acquired 3-G's integration services business, which held the GSA smart card contract.

McKeon praised the creation of the standard because it encourages hardware interoperability, an important consideration for the federal government, which purchases from multiple sources.

Another benefit will be application interoperability, though "that's a harder nut to crack," McKeon said. "One of the applications that many people want to do is digital signing [of their] e-mail. The whole federal government is not standardized on one e-mail package, [so] there are some standards to help you do that."

Despite creating an interoperability standard for the governmentwide contract, some agencies continue to issue their own contracts for smart cards that do not incorporate the new standard. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for instance, recently announced it would purchase smart cards for some 1,500 employees from Datakey Inc. of Minneapolis.

"Agencies have the option to do what they see best. GSA is not a mandatory source," said Mike Brooks, director of the office of smart card initiatives in GSA's Federal Technology Service.

For example, a proprietary solution may be best for agencies that have unique security requirements and do not require interoperability with other government offices and departments, he said.

The development of the interoperability standard also means that prime contractors on the GSA contract do not necessarily hold all the cards. Brooks said the standard will be available upon request after the beginning of the new year.

The goal is to use the standard as the basis for a federal information processing standard issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Consequently, contractors other than the five GSA smart card vendors will be able to promise prospective government clients a level of interoperability if they wish to issue their own contracts instead of through GSA.

What will stimulate the development and spread of smart card technology ? and its use by federal employees ? would be a major proposal from an agency, said KPMG's Cassidy.

"I would like to see a large federal agency put out a proposal for a multiple application card that would go across all their internal lines of business," including human resources, travel, information security, building access and so forth, Cassidy said.

Smart cards have the potential to go far beyond identification functions and fundamentally rework many internal procedures, such as streamlining repetitive tasks and eliminating multiple approval levels while improving accuracy, Cassidy said.

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