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Vol. LIX, No. 22
November 2, 2007

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Meeting the Requirements of HSPD-12
NIH Badging Effort Works to Accommodate Crowds

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Last spring, NIH committed to an enormous task: provide new identification cards by the end of October to more than 5,500 employees, both new hires and old hands, plus a constant flow of contractors, fellows, summer students, tenants, volunteers, special guests and others who need the cards to enter campus every day.

Complicating the challenge has been NIH’s need to comply with Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, which mandates— for all federal workers, contractors and affiliates—background investigations, regardless of how long you have worked for the federal government, fingerprinting and sometimes credit checks, depending on the sensitivity of the individual’s job.


  Queue forms for new badges in Bldg. 31.  
  Queue forms for new badges in Bldg. 31.  

The onus has fallen on the Division of Personnel Security and Access Control (DPSAC), part of the Office of Research Services, to complete a far more rigorous badging process than any generation of NIH’ers has ever known.

“It’s a difficult, daunting task,” says Dr. Alfred Johnson, ORS director. “We are doing our best to implement the new requirement, but it’s going to take some patience from the community.”

Whereas in the past, getting a new or renewal ID was as simple as filling out a form and posing for a quick Polaroid, HSPD-12 has a minimum of three steps, and sometimes more.

“First of all, you have to be able to prove you are who you say you are,” explains Richard Taffet, the new HSPD-12 program manager, who recently left a job as director of the Office of Human Resources’ Client Services Division to aid DPSAC. “Then you have to prove that you have the right suitability (clearance) for the job.” The last step is to “prove that you’re here for a purpose, that you are sponsored,” he said.

The good news is that the new badges will be accepted anywhere within the federal government, not just at NIH. “It’s a smart card, it has a chip in it,” Taffet says.

Lines for new and renewal ID badges in Bldg. 31 can reach 90 people deep and take 2 hours to clear, but the process should become smoother soon.

Lines for new and renewal ID badges in Bldg. 31 can reach 90 people deep and take 2 hours to clear, but the process should become smoother soon.

The new smart cards, which won’t be available until sometime in 2008, will include the individual’s photo, fingerprints, a 4-digit PIN number, an agency identifier and an access control code that will regulate which facilities you are cleared to enter. (There may come a day when logging on to your computer will require your card and PIN).

The initial bolus of 5,500 new and renewing badge holders will not be given the new “PIV-2” card yet; rather, they are getting cards very similar to the existing ones, which temporarily permit them access to campus while background investigations—conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, at a cost to NIH—take place.

Theoretically, by the end of October 2008, the approximately 35,000 people who have a reason for being on campus or other NIH facilities will have been issued the PIV-2, or “smart” card. “It’s a very noble, lofty goal,” offers Taffet.

“We’re trying to accommodate people, and to meet the demand. We’re trying to help, so bear with us. We’re as customer-friendly as we can be—we’re trying to meet people halfway.”

Meanwhile, here is why you see lines, sometimes 90 people deep on late Wednesday afternoons, outside the DPSAC badge center on the first floor of Bldg. 31’s B-wing—and how you can avoid them:

The process begins with making an appointment with DPSAC, which recommends doing so at least 45 days before your current badge expires (email alerts, automatically generated by the NIH Enterprise Directory, or NED, are supposed to offer advance warnings to schedule the appointment). Once you arrive, fill out the badge-request form and get fingerprinted. Within days you will receive electronic “e-QIP” paperwork, which, among other things, authorizes OPM to begin a background check.

Three to 5 days after the appointment, the applicant also receives an email indicating that he or she can get a fresh ID card. Print that email and take it to DPSAC (Bldg. 31, Rm. 1B03), which issues the card. It can take anywhere from 90 days to a year for OPM to finish the background check, but an interim card is issued anyway.

“OPM is doing the background investigations for all federal agencies, not just NIH,” Taffet said, adding, “These suitability checks are nothing new. They have been around for more than 50 years, ever since Executive Order 10450 was issued in the mid-1950s. What’s new are the interoperable badge and the suitability check prior to badging.”

Sometime in 2008, all who have begun the HSPD-12 process will have to return for the sophisticated new card and a new photo. But by then, if all goes according to schedule, NIH will have acquired 17 new badge-activating machines (there are currently only 4), and the smart cards should be issued fairly rapidly.

More than 90 percent of individuals will require the lowest of five levels of clearance or the lowest level plus a credit check, Taffet said. The lowest level of clearance involves checking an individual’s name and fingerprints with other federal agencies, as well as checking an individual’s history for the last 5 years with current and past employers, schools attended, references and local law enforcement authorities.

It was acting DPSAC chief Candelario Zapata’s idea to offer applicants a wider menu of ways to get a badge, including the option to sign up before 7 a.m. for same-day service, provided the applicant returns sometime between 2 and 4 p.m. to complete the process.

Like Taffet, he was recruited from an entirely different job to revitalize the badging effort. Unlike Taffet, Zapata, who came to DPSAC last June, still holds his old job—director of the Division of International Services, ORS. “Candelario has been innovative,” said Taffet, “offering evening hours, same-day service and a number of different ways to make an appointment.”

To DPSAC, the long lines you see in the B-wing on Wednesday evenings when they offer open enrollment—which can take 2 hours to clear—are a sign of extended service, not of shame.

But no one foresaw the sheer demand. “Every other Monday is an EOD day,” Taffet explains, using personnel lingo for Entrance on Duty, or start date, “so you’ve got crowds then. On top of that, there are contractors coming on board every day. The long lines you see in the hall are mostly contractors and fellows.”

Echoes Johnson, “The turnover at NIH is so great—that’s why the lines have persisted. We expected there would be lines at first, but we didn’t think it would last. We didn’t expect the volume.”

To address the tedium of standing in long lines for hours at a time, ORS opened up the cafeteria in Bldg. 31 on Wednesdays. After “taking a number,” individuals now have a place to sit down and relax until their number is called.

Johnson says DPSAC, which is largely staffed by contractors, is also planning to open a second site that will permit employees not directly involved in processing the throngs to work away from staff who are actually moving folks through the process. A mobile badging unit, also, has been visiting NIH’s facilities in Baltimore weekly, and will process employees in Frederick as well.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Johnson says. “There have been bumps in the road. But hopefully we’ll soon have a smoother process.”

Adds Zapata, “This is a very stressful job. We’re trying to accommodate people, and to meet the demand. We’re trying to help, so bear with us. We’re as customer-friendly as we can be—we’re trying to meet people halfway.”

Says Taffet, “It’s not like NIH chose to do this. But when you think about it, it does make sense to do suitability checks. We have select agents here [pathogens that could cause disease if released]. We have kids here. We’re trying to protect our employees, our patients and our facilities. You would think people would feel safer knowing that the other people here are those who should be here.”

To stay abreast of changes and improvements in the HSPD-12 effort, you can read the DPSAC News online at htm.

Color-Coding Considered on ID Badges

One of the most controversial issues in NIH’s compliance with HSPD-12 has been deciding just how much the new badges should tell people, at a glance. It’s a given that your photo will beam out from it—bad hair day or not—and that a digital fingerprint will be encoded somewhere, perhaps within the gold rectangle at the center of the card (which authorities say has not yet been fully designed).

But at a recent monthly meeting of CABS—the community advisory board for security, chaired by NIDCD’s Dr. Robert Wenthold—a proposal to mark the badges held by foreign nationals with an instantly recognizable blue stripe arose. The proposal appears in guidance published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, titled Federal Information Processing Standards Publication - Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors, or FIPS-201. Officials in Bldg. 1 bristled at an echoing of historic abuses of labeling people by ethnicity, origin or other factors.

“It brings up a lot of bad memories,” said Dr. Alfred Johnson, director of the Office of Research Services. He explained that, although the color coding is optional within FIPS-201, the department (HHS) prefers to use it as a secondary security measure. NIH inquired about the color-coding plan and the department is listening to NIH’s concerns.

The only color-coding NIH is comfortable with, say officials here, is the thin red band at the bottom of cards held by so-called “federal emergency responders,” or key staff who would need instant clearance “at the site of another Hurricane Katrina, or Wilma, or Rita,” said Richard Taffet, HSPD-12 program manager for NIH. A green band for contractors, also suggested by FIPS-201, is acceptable here too, authorities say, but not any obvious marking for foreign nationals, which is widely considered odious.

“Important information can be embedded within the chip or placed on the back of the card,” said Johnson.

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