The government is delaying the start of the procurement process for the IT systems that will eventually issue ID cards for 50 million UK citizens over the next decade.
A "major" procurement process was set to begin, but "we're not quite ready yet", said James Hall, chief executive of the UK Identity and Passport Service, which is in charge of the ID card project. Hall was speaking at the Gartner identity management conference in London. He did not say when procurement would start.
The ID card programme will cost an estimated £5.4bn, according to the Home Office.
The delay confirms doubts that surfaced about a year ago about whether the ID card project could be kept on the government's schedule.
A leaked memo released about year ago written by an official in Prime Minister's Tony Blair government outlined ongoing worries about whether the first ID cards could be delivered by 2008, in keeping with the government's schedule. The memo cited concerns over procurement, costs and program management.
The government has a number of large IT projects under way, including a major revamp of NHS IT, which has been subject to heavy criticism for delays in implementations and difficulties with suppliers.
Richard Granger, head of the NHS IT programme, announced his resignation project earlier this month.
Once the ID card project is under way, the government will issue cards to citizens as they apply for a new passport.
The ID card programme met wide opposition over privacy concerns, but the government hopes the cards will enhance national security, reduce benefits fraud and strengthen immigration controls.
Hall said it was hoped that businesses will embrace the national ID card as a form of identity, as long as it meets its goals of security and privacy. Hall, a 30-year veteran of Accenture, admitted he was initially a "sceptic" of the ID project at first, but now is a "passionate believer".
"If we get this right, we can actually deliver some huge benefits," Hall said.