2008 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Michael Butler

Created a new smart card credentialing system that is improving the security of federal properties and computer networks, in addition to saving taxpayer dollars.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, an estimated 6,000 medical professionals showed up in Louisiana to help with the relief efforts. But because they lacked the proper credentials, federal officials could not verify they were licensed professionals, and they were prohibited from administering medical care. Michael Butler of the General Services Administration (GSA) has created a new credentialing system that will allow future relief workers to go to work right away, improve security throughout our government and save taxpayer dollars.

Butler was recruited from the Defense Department by GSA in 2007 to lead the federal government’s development and implementation of its own smart card credentialing program, called USAccess. Butler and his team developed the program in response to Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 (HSPD-12), which requires federal agencies to adopt a standard process to establish and manage an individual’s identity. The mechanism for doing so would be a common credential to be used for physical access to federal government facilities and information systems.

When this directive was issued in 2004, federal agencies were faced with the challenge of meeting its milestones (the first cards were to be issued in October 2007) without additional funding to support the initiative or the technical expertise to select and manage the vendors and components required to build such a complicated identity management system. Michael Butler was brought on to tackle this challenge because he had a respected history in leading smart card initiatives coupled with a reputation for refusing to let outdated policies, mindsets and technology get in the way of the government’s mission.

Butler developed the USAccess program to offer federal agencies a compelling solution to this challenge. With USAccess, GSA offers participating agencies a managed, shared service that simplifies the process of procuring and maintaining valid credentials, while, at the same time, meeting HSPD-12 requirements for issuing the credentials.

GSA serves as the agency responsible for administering and coordinating the USAccess program. It provides the project, acquisition and financial management necessary to help participating agencies receive the USAccess end-to-end service. Since forming the USAccess program in 2007, Butler has recruited almost 70 federal agencies into the program. He has convinced them to work together to change and adopt common policies and technology. Participating agencies have also agreed to use the USAccess service to create an identity for each of their workers and issue a USAccess card that will be used to secure and access the government’s vast computer systems and its buildings. The first USAccess card was issued in September 2007 with an estimated 850,000 to 1 million additional cards to be issued to employees and contractors of the participating agencies.

In addition to improving the security of the government, Butler and his team hope the USAccess program serves as a proof point of how a service shared among agencies can actually save the government money. To make this happen, Butler has had to play the role of technical visionary, government mediator and political cheerleader. His progress to date is unprecedented in the smart card industry. Mike Butler can best be described as a grounded visionary who would never ask his staff or team to do something he wouldn’t do himself. It’s why GSA recruited him for the USAccess job and why people who have worked with Mike before would all jump at the opportunity to do it again. Whether it’s hopping on a plane to consult with other government agencies who are considering USAccess versus developing their own solution or driving 150 miles in the middle of the night to pick up the credential of a senior official being enrolled in the program the following morning, Butler is a shining, humble example of what it means to lead, and serve his government, while at the same time inspiring.