The GSA's Smart Card Security Prototype

One of the U.S. government's largest smart card security systems is located in the heart of lower Manhattan, just eight city blocks from the World Trade Center Ground Zero memorial site.


One of the U.S. government's largest smart card security systems is located in the heart of lower Manhattan, just eight city blocks from the World Trade Center Ground Zero memorial site. The smart card system controls access into the mammoth Jacob Javits Federal Building. At 2.4 million square feet, the Javits Federal Building is the government's second-largest civilian building, after the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in Washington, D.C. The system extends to another federal building, also in lower Manhattan, to bring the total covered floor space to almost 3.5 million square feet. Approximately 35 federal agencies and their 13,000 employees and contractors work out of the two buildings.

The system was created and is managed by the General Services Administration. The GSA has been the executive branch's lead agency in the purchasing and use of smart cards since the federal government began investigating the technology in the mid-1990s. As an extension of its smart card mandate, the GSA's Northeast and Caribbean region took the lead in developing what has become one of the largest smart card security system pilots in the nation.

Thinking Big
Steve Ruggiero, deputy regional administrator for GSA's Northeast and Caribbean region, has played a key role in overseeing the development of the New York City smart card pilot. According to Ruggiero, the GSA was researching smart card technology to develop expertise and resources it could make available to other federal government agencies. In 1998, the GSA's Federal Technology Service (FTS), in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, had already established the Smart Card Technology Center to demonstrate the application of smart card technology on a small scale.

Ruggiero and his team believed a larger, more practical demonstration of the technology was needed to make a compelling case for smart card adoption throughout the government. "We thought that the size and the complexity of the Javits Building would provide a perfect setting," recalled Ruggiero. "If a smart card system could work here, it could work anywhere."

Representatives from various regional GSA service lines, including the FTS, the Public Buildings Service (serving as the primary landlord to most civilian agencies), the Federal Supply Service, and the Federal Protective Service (now part of the Department of Homeland Security), formed a working group that would hammer out the details of the proposed smart card system.

Dollars and Sense
The group spent the next two years developing a familiarity with the technologies, evaluating products and potential vendors, and securing the necessary funding. At that point, security-related projects, such as the smart card pilot, competed with a variety of other prominent projects for funding dollars. So rather than request special funding for the project, the group opted to use its existing budget and move forward at a conservative pace.

"At the same time, we were trying to address the social implications of this change," explained Ruggiero. Up to that point, each of the various tenant agencies, including the FBI, the EPA and HUD, were issuing their own agency-specific photo identification badges to their employees and contractors based on differing badge formats and background security evaluation criteria. The Javits Building's antiquated electronic access control system had outlived its usefulness, so visual identification was the primary basis upon which individuals were granted access into the buildings. Facility security personnel were faced with the challenge of spotting invalid or counterfeit badges from a range of 30 to 40 different badge types used daily by thousands of individuals.

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