NationsBank said it has started a Visa Cash smart card program at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The one-year pilot test is the bank's third in the role of financial agent for the U.S. Treasury. The planned number of cards, 40,000, is almost equal to the total in its two other Visa Cash programs, in Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in New York and Florida.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which administers military pay, is also participating at Lackland. Visa Cash cards are being issued to recruits for registration and payment purposes, including disbursement of a $250 salary advance upon arrival.

After three months, salary payments are converted to direct deposit.

This is the latest in a series of trials, many government-sponsored, in "closed environments" such as military bases, universities, and hospitals.

Mellon Bank worked with the Treasury and Defense departments on similar tests at Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Sill, Okla. The latter was the first to include a fingerprint identification component.

First Union National Bank is the smart card agent bank at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Lackland Air Force Base "is attractive for this type of pilot because it offers repeat customers who will be familiar with the places that they can use the card," including the post exchange and barber shop, said a NationsBank spokeswoman.

Terri Hayden, NationsBank stored-value manager, said the program is "another great opportunity to learn and continue our development" of the technology.

"The experiences from this endeavor will result in long-term solutions that deliver exceptional value to the federal government, cardholders, and businesses," said Diana Knox, senior vice president of chip card products, Visa U.S.A.

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Verifone Inc. subsidiary and smart card maker Giesecke & Devrient are also participating in the Lackland program.

Among those accepting the cards will be the base chaplain. It was found in Army pilot tests that church collections declined because trainees carried little cash, said Lt. Robert H. Paleo of Lackland.

NationsBank and the Treasury's Financial Management Service started one- year smart card tests last fall at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Tampa and the Bronx, N.Y., with 23,000 and 25,000 cards, respectively.

The Lackland card total will be about double that in each of the Army training locations because the Air Force, unlike the Army, has only one basic training facility.

Each Lackland card is embossed with the recruit's name, flight, and Social Security number but will not use personal identification numbers or biometrics for added security.

"Biometrics is fairly new, and at the Army sites, trainees would forget their PIN and they couldn't use their card at all," Lt. Paleo said.

Instead, the Lackland recruits' identities will be verified by training instructors or other means.

"PINs are not a long-term security answer, but biometrics are," said Paul F.P. Coenen, president of Electronic Strategy Associates, Cumming, Ga. He said the costs of biometrics - including fingerprints, retina scans, or voice recognition - have fallen significantly.

Adopting less sophisticated verification "doesn't seem to make a lot of sense," Mr. Coenen said. "But if they are concerned about people forgetting their PINs, it is probably a way of getting the project under way."

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