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DHS Three Years Behind On Smart Card Project

The original completion for the issuance and use of identity cards to federal employees and contractors was Oct. 27, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security is three years behind schedule on a project to develop a standard smart-card identification method for federal employees and contractors, according to a DHS report.

The project -- officially called Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12): Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors -- requires that DHS develop a government-wide way to identify employees by issuing smart cards. The cards contain information about which IT applications and networks and facilities each employee is permitted access to.

The original completion for the issuance and use of identity cards was Oct. 27, 2008, according to the report, issued by inspector general Richard L. Skinner. However, as of Sept. 22, 2009, only 15,567 of the approximately 250,000 department employees and contractors have been issued identity credentials.

The program's target date for completion has now been pushed to Sept. 30, 2011, the end of the 2011 fiscal year.

Specifically, DHS plans to issue smart cards to 135,000 federal employees and contractors by the end of fiscal year 2010, and to the remaining 105,000 employees and contractors by the end of fiscal year 2011.

The report blames poor program management, including insufficient funding and resources, as well as a change in implementation strategy for issuing cards in June 2009, for falling behind schedule.

There are significant IT problems hindering completion of the directive, too, according to the report.

One of its biggest challenges is allowing what the report calls "logical access" to IT systems. The government does not have proper system security and account management controls in place to protect people's personal identity information from unauthorized access, it concluded.

In particular, DHS has been slow to implement government-wide identity-management and smart-card identification systems to handle the project. Coordinating efforts between various departments and their respective IT systems has been a significant challenge, according to the report.

The report offers a set of recommendations to get the program back on track so it can meet its new target completion date.

One basic recommendation is to make sure the project management office that is overseeing the project has the staffing and funding necessary to do its job properly.

Coming up with a reasonable estimate for how much completing the project will cost is also on the list. Problems with planning for the cost of the project within the federal budget have been one of the reasons the project has been insufficiently funded, according to the report.

On the IT side, DHS also appears to have a lot of work to do to implement the system in time.

The agency still needs to develop formal procedures for defining employee, or user, accounts and roles, as well as defining the privileges associated with those user accounts and roles.

It also must reconcile data and collaboration between a series of user configuration, card management, and account management systems, as well find and correct any inconsistencies between an identity-management system and government physical-access control systems.

Further, there are still no policies in place for how to control employee access in cases in which cards must be revoked, suspended, or destroyed, nor are there procedures for evaluating the physical security of enrollment centers where government employees are issued their cards, according to the report.

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