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Agencies may find it easier to meet ID card rules under GSA's new deal

The General Services Administration is making it easier and cheaper for smaller federal agencies to comply with rules for electronic identity cards. And if that's not enough of an incentive for agencies to outfit computers with ID card readers, there's another reason they should comply -- they'll soon face financial penalties if they don't. The Office of Management and Budget this year will start withholding technology upgrade funding from agencies that do not adopt the card readers.

One reason most agencies have not installed the scanners is cost, according to federal auditors.

The General Services Administration, the government's purchasing arm, now can help some smaller agencies free up funds for the equipment. GSA officials this week announced a three-year, $47 million deal to continue contracting with incumbent vendor HP for credentialing services that otherwise could have been disrupted or experienced cost increases.

Not every agency can handle ID management economically, Stan Kaczmarczyk, GSA deputy director for the Office of Strategic Solutions and Security Services, told Nextgov. In 2007, GSA tapped EDS, now owned by HP, to provide ID services at bulk rates for departments of all sizes. "The project leveraged the buying power of those agencies so smaller agencies could take advantage at a lower price," Kaczmarczyk said.

Under the "USAccess" program, HP helps register each employee for an ID, issue the credentials and allow authorized agency staff to monitor the workflow through an online portal. The website also allows agencies to activate and deactivate the cards. The package does not include the card readers.

The Housing and Urban Development Department used to have an independent contract for ID management services. As the agreement's expiration date neared, "HUD determined that it was too difficult for them to do a recompete," potentially forcing staff to renew credentials under a different supplier, USAccess business manager Spiro Papagjika said. The department now is among the more than 90 agencies using HP's services, including the Agriculture, Interior and Treasury departments, as well as the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The cost of the services varies for each agency depending on a number of variables, including workforce size, number of activation stations desired and level of support needed. Each credential costs $49.

In contract papers filed to justify the exclusion of other vendors from bidding on the deal, GSA officials said switching suppliers, when many current customers had not yet received new ID badges, could create security risks.

USAccess is part of an ID verification effort dating back to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Then President George W. Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 in 2004 requiring all employees to use smartcard credentials embedded with digital fingerprints and photos for accessing government buildings and networks. But the electronic parts of the cards largely have gone unused because most agencies have yet to install card readers.

A year ago, the White House stated that starting in 2012, it would freeze funds for technology enhancements at agencies that fail to equip assets with digital readers. As of September 2011, a month before the fiscal year began, the Government Accountability Office reported little progress had been made in using cards' electronic features for system logons. None of the eight major agencies GAO audited required card scans for computer access.

White House officials on Thursday said they expect agencies to follow the issued policy this year. "The memo required agencies to implement certain requirements beginning in fiscal 2012, thus it would be premature to state implications to agency development and technology refresh funds at this time," OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack said.

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