RFID Could Help to Reduce the Federal Deficit

The U.S. Department of Defense is ahead of most private companies in using RFID technology, but the civilian government is lagging behind.
Published: March 30, 2010

Over the years, I’ve spoken to several congressional aides in the United States government, mostly regarding privacy issues related to radio frequency identification. This year, I’ve been trying to encourage agencies of the U.S. federal government to adopt RFID technologies.

I invited members of the U.S. government’s interagency task force, created by Alan Estevez when he led the U.S. Department of Defense‘s RFID efforts, to hold its spring meeting at RFID Journal LIVE! 2010. I offered free passes, so members could hear how companies are using RFID, meet vendors and see the technology. Some wanted to take me up on the offer, but travel constraints prevented others from coming, so the idea was shot down. (Some might still attend.)

I also invited 25 congressional aides focused on health care to attend the RFID in Health Care preconference, so they could learn how the technology can be used to lower health-care costs (a big topic in Washington right now). But I received only one response, and that was from an aide who read RFID Journal to learn how the technology might reduce counterfeiting. He said he couldn’t come even if he wanted to, because of rules against aides taking gifts. I said it wasn’t a gift—it’s free education.

RFID can deliver huge benefits to federal agencies. Here are some examples of how:

Veterans Administration Hospitals: RFID is dramatically reducing costs for hospitals around the world, by making it easier and less expensive to locate valuable medical equipment and supplies. Given the breadth of the VA network of hospitals and equipment, it could easily save tens of millions dollars annually with RFID.

File tracking: The United States government is the largest collector of information on Earth. Making it easier to locate files is a no-brainer.

IT asset tracking: Federal agencies have an enormous amount of IT equipment, including laptops and storage media with sensitive data. Tagging and tracking these items would reduce the risk of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, and would also cut the cost of maintaining all of that equipment.

Vehicle tracking: Many agencies provide vehicles to their senior staff, which they can use to travel to meetings. The Social Security Administration tested an RFID system to manage who checks out vehicles, as well as how much fuel they use. I’m not sure if the agency ever deployed the system, but it could save taxpayers a lot of money if vehicles were used only for official business.

Agencies of state and local governments could improve the collection and management of fares for public transportation, the management of waste collection and recycling, the management of libraries, and other public resources and routine tasks. We’ve highlighted some of the work governments are doing in our RFID in Government preconference seminar, being held at LIVE! 2010, but there is clearly a lot more that governments could do with RFID to reduce costs and improve operations. And in these difficult economic times, when tax revenues are shrinking, efficient government is more critical than ever.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or click here.