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A Missed Opportunity in Washington

The U.S. government missed its chance to use RFID to ensure accountability of the huge stimulus package currently making its way through Congress—but governments can still consider this option for future programs.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 02, 2009Last week, I made phone calls to the aides of several U.S. senators who had, in the past, asked me for information regarding radio frequency identification. I proposed that they try to insert language into the huge stimulus package now making its way through Congress, stating that the U.S. government would require the use of RFID to track the progress of projects, and to ensure accountability for the money spent.

If history has taught us anything, it is that when governments spend money, there is always tremendous waste. We've seen this with reconstruction projects in Iraq, and at home. The stimulus package includes some $60 billion for infrastructure projects—does anyone believe the U.S. federal government will spend each and every taxpayer dollar wisely? I doubt that.

RFID could help track every I-beam, ton of concrete, can of paint and box of screws, and make that data instantly available to government auditors. The government could then provide the appropriate technology—active, passive, high-frequency (HF), ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) or ultra-wideband (UWB), all of which might be required for different applications—to the companies managing these projects. The cost to taxpayers would be small compared to the overall amount being spent, and the benefits would be huge.

First, using radio frequency identification would enable companies taking on projects under the stimulus program to be more efficient and cost-effective. Construction sites are often vast locations at which supplies, tools and other equipment can be misplaced or stolen. Instead of paying workers to search for a particular pipe or tool, RFID could locate that item instantly, enabling workers to focus on completing projects on time, and within budget.

Second, RFID would enable these firms to automatically capture data about the goods arriving—and leaving through the back door—for major projects. Items arriving could be matched against invoices to ensure that if, for instance, a company says it needs 25,000 gallons of paint to repaint a bridge, that many gallons of paint are used. Tags on paint cans arriving at the job site could be compared both against a line item in a budget, and against the tags on discarded cans. This would not eliminate waste and fraud—but it would make it more difficult to perpetrate and easier to detect.

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