WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As of November 2002, 18 federal agencies reported initiating a total of 62 smart card projects, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

These projects have provided a range of benefits and services, ranging from verifying the identity of people accessing buildings and computer systems to tracking immunization records.

To successfully implement such systems, agency managers have faced a number of substantial challenges:

- sustaining executive-level commitment in the face of organizational resistance and cost concerns;

- obtaining adequate resources for projects that can require extensive modifications to technical infrastructures and software;

- integrating security practices across agencies, a task requiring collaboration among separate and dissimilar internal organizations;

- achieving smart card interoperability across the government;

- maintaining the security of smart card systems and privacy of personal information.

The General Services Administration (GSA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have roles to play in helping agencies overcome these challenges.

As the federal government?s designated promoter of smart card technology, the GSA assists agencies in assessing the potential of smart cards and in implementation.

Although the GSA has helped agencies significantly by implementing a government-wide, standards-based contracting vehicle, it has not kept guidance up to date and has not addressed important subjects, such as building security standards, in its guidance.

The OMB, which is responsible for setting policies for ensuring the security of federal information and systems, has not issued government-wide policy on adoption of smart cards. In its role of setting technical standards, NIST is responsible for the government smart card interoperability specification, which does not yet address significant emerging technologies.

Updated guidance, policy and standards would help agencies to take advantage of the potential of smart cards to enhance security and other agency operations.

The U.S. General Accounting Office