GSA leads in smart-card spec development

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Before Sept. 11, Michael R. Brooks thought smart cards were a solution looking for a problem.

Since then, they have "caught on like wildfire," said Brooks, director of the Center for Smart Card Solutions at the General Services Administration.

About 800 employees of GSA's Federal Technology Service in Springfield and Vienna, Va., offices are using smart cards for building access. Another 160 workers at GSA and the Education Department are piloting a hybrid "combi-card" for transit.

The combi-card resembles the SmarTrip stored-value card used on Washington's Metro subway system, Brooks said. It works with the Go Card automatic fare collection system for public transportation developed by Cubic Corp. of San Diego.

The card has an integrated-circuit chip and an embedded radio-frequency antenna for contactless reading. Brooks said GSA could blend the access and transportation applications on a forthcoming card from HID Corp. of Irvine, Calif., which has two RF antennas.
GSA's building-access card stores employee name, address, phone number, rank, and credentials for access to certain buildings and rooms.

The transit card has emergency medical information and serial numbers of any notebook computers or cell phones issued to the employee, as well as transit information.

"Employees are allowed to take government property home," Brooks said. "Sometimes it goes home and never comes back."

GSA has undertaken 13 smart-card projects since 1996 when the Office of Management and Budget assigned it the lead role in smart-card development. The first proof-of-concept card in 1998 had only a magnetic strip and a photo. Brooks now carries around all three: his original pilot card for transactions, the government access card and the transit card.

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