GSA sets plan to issue free digital certificates

GSA sets plan to issue free digital certificates

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The General Services Administration has authorized the creation of the first 110,000 digital certificates under its Access Certificates for Electronic Services program.

The certificates, from AT&T Corp. and Digital Signature Trust Co. of Salt Lake City, are among 500,000 that will be issued free this year to introduce ACES. The certificates initially will go to the Veterans Affairs Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It's a chance 'to prime the ACES pump,' GSA's Martin Wagner says.

'Offering the certificates free of issuance cost is a great opportunity to prime the ACES pump,' said G. Martin Wagner, GSA's associate administrator for governmentwide policy.

Three levels

GSA wants ACES to provide digital-signature identification, authentication and nonrepudiation for online transactions with the government. The certificates, issued and managed by an agency or a trusted third party, can prove identities online and access private encryption keys to secure and digitally sign the transactions. The Office of Information Security in GSA's Federal Technology Service manages the ACES program.

AT&T and Digital Signature Trust both were awarded ACES contracts last fall. GSA certified Digital Signature Trust's operational platform, and the company received interim approval to issue and manage digital certificates under ACES in April. AT&T last month received interim approval to operate.

Final approval for both companies will come after they have demonstrated continued operational compliance.

A third company, Operational Research Consultants Inc. of Chesapeake, Va., also received an ACES contract last year and expects interim approval soon to issue certificates.

GSA in May awarded a task order for 500,000 digital certificates to be provided free to agencies that apply with program proposals. Digital Signature Trust will issue up to 400,000 of the certificates, and AT&T up to 100,000. Although there is no cost to the agencies under the task order, they will be responsible for any transaction costs in using the certificates.

AT&T and Digital Signature Trust will act as certificate authorities for the VA and FEMA certificates.

VA plans to use its certificates in online programs for applying for and verifying veterans' benefits. The first program to be rolled out is the Veterans On-Line Application for educational, compensation, pension and vocational rehabilitation benefits.

This fall, veterans also will be able to use certificates to verify enrollment status
each month under the Montgomery GI Bill's Web Automated Enrollment Certification program. Verification now is a paper process.

A pilot with colleges and universities later this year will test the certificates for electronic verification of veteran enrollment and release of benefits. This now occurs over dial-up connections, but the digital certificate program could move it to the Internet. The program initially will use 150 certificates at about 50 schools.

FEMA will receive 10,000 certificates for federal, state and local emergency managers who use its National Emergency Management Information System. Most of NEMIS, which processes some sensitive information, now operates behind FEMA firewalls. Digital certificates could move some applications to the Web.


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