Ready or not, here's HSPD-12

Beginning tomorrow, government IDs may be issued only by trusted authorities designated under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, and those receiving the cards must meet stringent new identity proofing requirements.

One year from now, these ID cards must meet technical standards for a governmentwide smart card that can be verified across agency lines for both physical and IT system access.

Although agencies appear to be on track for meeting these deadlines, the new requirements may pose headaches for government employees and contractors receiving the cards.

Required extensive background checks could delay card issuance for months.

'We found that running these checks could take anywhere from a couple of days to nine months,' said William 'Curt' Barker, program manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 'Organizations were reluctant to wait nine months to bring people on board,' so NIST came up with a compromise to speed the process. 'Interim cards can be granted based on a national criminal history check.'

These checks'essentially an FBI fingerprint check'usually can be done in two or three days, said Judith Spencer, chairwoman of the Federal ID Credentialing Committee. But even these simpler checks could take months to complete in some cases, and there is some confusion about whether agencies will accept earlier background checks conducted by other agencies.

'We're still working out the details,' Spencer said.

Barker and Spencer spoke at the Federal Information Assurance Conference being held at the University of Maryland.

The mandate for an interoperable, machine-readable government-wide ID card was issued by the president in August 2004. The deadline for meeting ID vetting and procedural requirements was 14 months after HSPD-12 was issued, with a deadline for issuing interoperable cards one year later.

NIST did a rush job on the technical specifications for the card, and the Federal ID Credentialing Committee has produced guidelines to help agencies in meeting the requirements.

The General Services Administration has established a contract schedule for HSPD-12 commercial products and expects to have operational and interoperability testing programs in place early next year.

'GSA will be issuing bulk purchase agreements against the schedule line items,' when product testing has been completed, Spencer said.

Both Spencer and Barker said agencies appear to be on track for meeting the Oct. 27 and the 2006 deadlines.

'To my knowledge, they're all there,' Spencer said. 'A year from now we should be in a position to start issuing these cards.'

But many in government expect backlogs to develop as background checks are required for each employee and contractor receiving a card. With the new cards required both for physical and IT access, new hires and current employees getting new IDs could find themselves locked out of work until the lengthy checks are completed.

The background checks, called National Agency Checks with Written Inquiries, are not entirely new. They have been routine for some government positions, and the HSPD-12 requirement was based on a directive from the 1950s that has not been universally observed, Barker said.

The interim cards will help relieve some of the pressure, but problems could arise even there. Ironically, the government's most trusted workers'those who already have undergone extensive background checks'could face the greatest delays. This is because previous checks generate large files that have to be manually examined during a subsequent criminal history check. This means it could take months for some persons with prior clearances to get even an interim ID.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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