Biometric ID plan accelerates
But funding, structure answers lag
- By Alice Lipowicz
- Apr 20, 2006
After three years of little movement, the plan to furnish transportation workers with biometric ID cards is suddenly on the fast track.
The Homeland Security Department in May will solicit proposals for widespread deployment and make an award in July. But concerns remain about how the program, known as the Transportation Workers Identification Credential, will be funded and structured.
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is "definitely putting TWIC on a fast track," said Gordon Hannah, managing director of identification solutions for BearingPoint Inc., contractor for the card's third-phase prototype testing.
Several large federal contractors, including BearingPoint of McLean, Va. and Lockheed Martin Corp., have confirmed they are interested in bidding for the fourth phase of the contract, which is production and deployment of cards for 850,000 port workers nationwide.
BearingPoint was the contractor during TWIC's third phase of prototyping, and Lockheed Martin is the prime systems integrator for a similar biometric identity card program, Registered Traveler, which enrolls frequent travelers at selected airports.
"We're well-positioned for this," said Jon Rambeau, Lockheed Martin program director for credentialing and law enforcement.
Even so, a month before the May 8 scheduled release of Homeland Security's request for proposals for the fourth phase of the transportation workers card, uncertainties remain about the program's scope and how it is to be funded.
"We are thrilled that things are moving," said Walter Hamilton, vice president of Saflink Corp., Bellevue, Wash., and chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association trade group. But, "I'm still concerned that it may not be funded adequately." Saflink partnered with BearingPoint for the prototype phase.
The price tag for initial deployment of the card, to 10 million workers, is likely to be between $100 million and $150 million, Hamilton said. That does not include readers, which will cost an additional $10 million for the largest 25 ports; nor does it include ongoing operational costs, he said.
Other industry sources have estimated total costs of deployment, including purchase of card readers, to be as much as $1.2 billion nationwide for 12 million workers. Industry sources project an estimated cost of about $100 per credential.
Fees collected from program participants are expected to cover a large part of the total operating costs, and the White House budget for fiscal 2007 contains no line item for it. DHS is expected to issue a rule on the fee structure soon.
Congress mandated the card program in the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. As many as 12 million transportation workers nationwide will get the plastic cards, which will contain computer chips holding digitized versions of fingerprints. A worker must undergo a background check by the Transportation Security Administration before getting a card.
While the card has been progressing ? slowly ? through development and prototype testing phases, Congress has been critical of delays. Following uproar in Congress last month over port security, related to a large security contract awarded to a Dubai company, Chertoff said an identification card would be implemented for port workers this year.
"In our own country we are, I think, a little bit overdue on unveiling our TWIC for the ports," Chertoff told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore March 29. "But this year, we will get well under way in getting the kind of screening and background checking for port workers in the United States that is appropriate."
Industry executives raise several questions about the scope of the program. Saflink's Hamilton and BearingPoint's Hannah said the government is likely to seek contractors to coordinate the background checks, enrollment and issuance of the cards. Port and terminal operations would finance daily operation of the program, including the purchase, maintenance and operation of card readers and ongoing verifications of credentials for port workers, they said. As with the prototype, the cards may be manufactured in a government facility.
DHS wants one contractor to capture the biometric identification, enroll the port workers and coordinate production and distribution of the cards, Lockheed Martin's Rambeau said. "I'm assuming the state and local governments will be responsible for the physical protection and for the infrastructure needed to read the credentials," he said.
Once background checks are completed, workers are enrolled and cards are issued, the Coast Guard is expected to oversee daily verifications of the cards by port operators.
Hamilton and Hannah said the TWIC technology was proven effective in the prototype phase testing done in California, Delaware, Florida, Pennsylvania among other places, despite some initial glitches related to weather, wind and vibrations from vehicles moving through the ports.
"The marine environment is a very harsh one for electrical components," Hamilton said. In the prototype phase, developers had to devise ways to counter static, moisture, vibrations, dust and sudden shocks, such as readers being struck accidentally by truck mirrors, he said.
It was necessary to replace the first set of readers, because surfaces eroded too quickly. Subsequent readers proved effective in meeting DHS requirements, Hamilton said. "The problem was solved. Operationally, the results were perfectly acceptable," he said.
"The port environment is outdoors, and you are asking the biometrics to work outdoors," Hannah said. "We fielded multiple readers that could meet the government's requirements."
The prototype testing was a success, Hannah said. It was not a question of third-phase testing experiencing delays, but rather that the scope expanded as additional technologies and approaches were evaluated.
"We've been supporting the government ? with a larger scope than what was initially in the request for proposals," he said.
BearingPoint to date has received about $26 million for its TWIC work, he said.n
Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.