GSA smart card center opens for agency tryouts

When it opened its new Smart Card Technology Center this month, the General Services
Administration opted to use the tools the center will promote.

So the center has a smart card access system that makes it one of the most secure
offices at GSA headquarters.

To enter the facility, one must pass through the center’s smart card electronic
access control system, which officials call the gatekeeper. To gain access, users must
insert smart cards into a reader and key in their corresponding personal identification

Once the system approves access, a green light signifies a go-ahead and the system
unlocks the door. The door locks automatically after a person enters. The system logs an
access record; it also logs unsuccessful attempts to enter. The cards can be integrated
with fingerprints, palm prints, iris scanners and optical turnstiles for maximum security,
center officials said.

GSA and Navy officials, who cooperated in establishing the center, said they hope that
what goes on behind the door will illuminate and expand the use of smart card technology
in the government.

The center will be a site for demonstrating real-world uses of multiapplication smart
cards, which can go beyond secure entry to include network security, medical records, and
stored-value card applications.

The center demonstrates many applications. Several are in use at the Naval Training
Center in Great Lakes, Ill., where recruits are issued smart cards when they arrive. The
cards look like credit cards and contain an embedded chip.

“The smart card is basically a computer that fits in your pocket,” said
Jackie Robinson, special assistant to GSA Administrator David J. Barram and the
coordinator for the agency’s smart card programs.

The smart card is widely seen as a stepping stone to a number of applications. The
further development of electronic commerce, for example, has been constrained by the lack
of digital signatures.

One of the best methods of housing those electronic monikers is on a smart card, said
Tony Trenkle, director of GSA’s Electronic Commerce Office.

Smart cards can provide access to a lot of applications from digital signatures to
electronic catalogs, he said. “We think the smart card is one of the key
things,” Trenkle said.

Despite the benefits, however, agencies have accepted smart cards with some reluctance,
GSA and Navy officials said. A big obstacle agencies face is the development of an
infrastructure to handle the cards.

“Is this easy? No,” said Anthony Cieri, program manager for the Navy’s
Smart Card Program Office.

But GSA and Navy officials hope the center will help sell agencies on the technology
when they see it at work. “This is not an R&D facility. It’s not a test
lab,” said Michael W. Noll, director of GSA’s smart card initiative.

The facility is a place where people can see smart cards in use, said Ken Sardegna,
GSA’s director of the Smart Card Technology Center. “This lets government
decision-makers put their hands on it and see that it actually works,” he said.

“This is built so people have an opportunity to actually see things,” said G.
Martin Wagner, GSA’s associate administrator for govermentwide policy.

The center can prove that a multiapplication card is possible, he said. “The
business case for smart cards tends to be on more than one application,” Wagner said.

Marvin Langston, the Defense Department deputy chief information officer, said smart
card technology eliminates security redundancy and that any obstacles to implementing the
technology will be overcome. “I think we are really very close,” he said
following a tour of the center.

GSA and Navy agreed to cooperate on the center after both learned the other was
planning to open its own. Instead, the agency and service teamed up, Noll said. The Navy
contributed $100,000 and GSA $50,000 to establish the center.    

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