The state pioneers are Ohio and Wyoming, both of whom use smart cards for benefit delivery -- such as food stamps, Women, Infant and Children benefits, and so forth -- and have plans to expand this to cash programs.

Where there appear to be problems with smart cards is in their use as a national citizen or identity card. Most other countries have so far been unsuccessful. These failures occurred because citizens and interest groups have been concerned over privacy issues, and more than one country has had to scrap plans for identity cards. It appears both "big brother" and the perceived lack of adequate security have railroaded many of these initiatives. The United States, a country suspicious of an invasive government, will move slowly on such a card.

Getting There

The federal government must look to private industry for a technological solution rather than developing a "government solution." This translates into meeting the government's needs with commercial products -- a trend set in motion a dozen years ago. The commercial sector has steadily moved from paper-based systems to card-based delivery systems that support financial transactions. The U.S. private sector has demonstrated interest and investment in improving card technology and the technological infrastructure to support them. While some would argue the federal government must establish the infrastructure, as it did with the telephone system, we at the GSA believe otherwise. We will rely upon the private sector to develop the necessary operating rules and standards and then incorporate them into the products and services offered. This way, we take advantage of the ingenuity of the business world.

We will partner with other federal and state government agencies to facilitate the process of smart-card adoption so they become the tool of program managers rather than the exclusive province of technical experts. When program managers hold this same view, we will see speedy growth of smart-card applications. Our job is to educate program managers about the benefits of smart cards and show them how to reengineer their business process to take advantage of this technological device.

G. Martin Wagner is associate administrator of the Office of Government-wide Policy for the General Services Administration.

July Table of Contents