Government Smart Card Initiative

Leichter, Jerry leichter_jerrold at
Wed Nov 14 10:46:01 EST 2007

Little progress on government-wide smart card initiative, and little

November 14, 2007 (Computerworld) More than three years after a
presidential directive requiring federal government agencies to issue
new smart-card identity credentials to all employees and contractors,
progress on the mandate continues to be tediously slow.

Most agencies appear to have missed by a wide margin an October 27
deadline by which they were supposed to have completed background checks
and issued smart-ID credentials to all employees and contractors with 15
years or less of service.

The so-called Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards are supposed to
be tamper-proof and to support biometric authentication features. PIV
cards are designed to control access to federal computer networks and
facilities and can be used across agencies. Federal agencies are
mandated to issue them to all employees and contractor under Homeland
Security Presidential Directive-12 of August 2004. Under the multi-phase
initiative, agencies have until October 2008 to issue PIV cards to all
their employees and contractors.

Several government agencies contacted for this story did not respond to
request for information on their implementation status. But an
inspection of publicly posted information at, a federal
identity management site, showed that a large number of government
agencies had barely begun issuing the cards just prior to the October

Well below the Mendoza line

For example, as of Sept. 1, the U.S. Department of Commerce had not
issued even one PIV credential, though it listed over 40,000 employees
as requiring it. As of October 19, the Social Security Administration
had issued cards to 300 of its 65,000 employees, and to 429 of its
approximately 20,000 contractors. On July 1, the U.S. Department of
Energy had issued the new cards to 5 out of its 13,500 employees, and
not a single one to its 98,000 or so contractors.

Doing slightly better was the Department of State, which has issued the
new ID credentials to 4450 of its 19,865 employees and to more than a
quarter of its 7000 contractors by Sept. 14. Similarly, the Department
of Labor has issued cards to 6450 of its 15,600 employees and about 400
of its 3000 contractors as of Sept. 1

Though the numbers are a far cry from where the agencies were required
to be, they are not entirely unexpected. From the program's outset,
security analysts and government IT managers warned that agencies would
have a hard time meeting HSPD-12 implementation deadlines for a variety
of technological and logistical reasons.

"This is a classic example of politically established deadlines that are
not based on any reality at all. It is no more complicated than that,"
said Franklin Reeder an independent consultant and a former chief of
information policy at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

"As best as I can tell, HSPD-12 deadlines were set without any real
understanding of the enormity of what needed to be done or the costs"
involved in doing so, said Reeder, who is also chairman for the Center
for Internet Security.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), which was
originally entrusted with the task of coming up with the technical
specifications for HSPD-12, did a great job in delivering the standards
on schedule, Reeder said. Since then, agencies have been left with the
unenviable task of trying in an unreasonably short time frame to replace
their existing physical and logical access infrastructures with that
required for the PIV cards, Reeder said.

"It's one of those situations where the technology itself is not
complicated, but it does comprise many different pieces that have to be
carefully integrated," said Hord Tipton, a former CIO with the
U.S. Department of the Interior. The task involves a lot of cooperation
between different groups within agencies that have traditionally not
worked with each other, such as human resources, physical security and
IT, he said, and sometimes it can also mean replacing ongoing agency
efforts with the standards mandated by HSPD-12. The biggest example of
this is the U.S. Department of Defense, which rolled out millions of its
own IDs, called Common Access Cards. Those were based on a different
standard, and the DoD is currently in the process of migrating their
system to the PIV standard.

Interoperability looms

In addition to the internal issues, agencies also need to make sure
their PIV card infrastructures are interoperable with those of other
government agencies, Tipton said. This raises a whole set of other
technology, standards, trust, control and political issues that agencies
need to navigate.

A shared service set up by the General Services Administration (GSA) to
help agencies enroll employees into the PIV program and issue the new
cards to them is also still in the process of ramping up according to
Neville Pattison, vice president of business development and government
affairs at smartcard vendor Gemalto Inc.

This may have had an impact on the 63 or so federal agencies,
representing over 800,000 government employees, that are depending on
GSA to issue PIV cards, he said. Pattison says he expects the GSA shared
service to eventually achieve a run rate of around 10,000 cards per day,
"but that's going to be a good five years" from now.

Some of the bigger agencies are also using the HSPD-12 mandate as an
opportunity to roll out robust long-term ID management programs
requiring considerably longer implementation schedules, Pattison said.

One example is the Department of Homeland Security, which has managed to
get the approval of the OMB for a full compliance deadline of 2010.

Larry Orluskie, a DHS spokesman, said the agency received OMB approval
for the revised implementation schedule "so that it could most
effectively develop and deploy a scalable agency-wide solution" that
would form the foundation for ongoing security efforts at DHS.

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