Contractors: Homeland's TWIC database strategy flawed

Several federal contractors raised objections today to an apparent sole source contract that the Homeland Security Department is planning to award for managing the chief database for the upcoming Transportation Worker Identification Credential.

The department's Transportation Security Administration is preparing to contract directly with the American Association of Airport Executives to operate the identity management system for the TWIC, according to an internal TSA document obtained by Washington Technology and confirmed by industry sources close to the department. The identity management system is the central database for the credentialing program.

"This appears to be a noncompetitive award of the technology components that could be provided by industry," Walter Hamilton, vice president of Saflink Corp., Bellevue, Wash. and chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association, said in an interview today.

The value of the contract with the airport executives group was not immediately available. Estimates for the entire TWIC program run as high as $1.2 billion.

The department seems to be moving away from previous plans announced for the credentialing program, which initially will cover 850,000 port workers over 18 months.

In a published presolicitation notice on April 4, the TSA said it was seeking a federal contractor to operate the TWIC identity management system, as well as enrollment, help desk, enhancements and other functions. On April 19, however, that notice was cancelled.

Several contractors said last week that TSA was moving to conform to language in the department's 2006 appropriations bill that requires that credentialing programs must be operated by the airport executives' Transportation Security Clearinghouse, which currently vets airport workers.

The new TSA document indicates a clear intention to contract with the airport group on TWIC. "TSA intends to enter into a contract directly with AAAE to ready the TWIC system for full implementation," the document states.

It was not immediately clear whether TSA is required, under law, to use the airport executives' services in a sole source contract.

However, several federal contractors suggested Congress may not have intended to require a sole source contract be given to the airport executives' group.

"Our trade association is opposed to this type of restrictive legislative language," Hamilton said. "It is bad public policy and takes flexibility away from the government. These are elements that should be subjected to free and open competition."
Several contractors claim that the airport group is not experienced enough in operating an identity management database, which is typically in need of ongoing updates, revocations, and daily processing to account for lost and stolen cards.
But the TSA disputes that assertion. "AAAE has advised TSA that they have the in-house capabilities to perform TWIC Identity management System work and make system changes needed to implement programs," the TSA document said.
Even so, several contractors are raising an alarm. "Sole-sourcing TWIC out to AAAE instead of moving along with the previous open competition will give this important work over to an entity?that will potentially alienate those transportation workers (truck drivers, port workers, etc) who aren't part of the airport industry, and delay the program further; most likely at additional cost to the taxpayer," stated a federal contractor, who asked to remain anonymous.
The April 4 presolicitation notice for the credentialing program sought a single contractor to deploy Phase IV for 850,000 port workers to include enrollment, help desk, operation and maintenance of the ID Management System, as well as future enhancements for the program. The TSA restructured its plans on April 19 for the TWIC, issuing a new notice saying it was seeking federal contractors to handle only enrollment.

The program has been in the works since March 2003, and has undergone extensive prototype testing. TSA and AAAE officials did not respond to phone requests for comment.

Also in the TSA document, it states that the fees to be charged for TWIC enrollment would be $139 each for standard enrollments and $105 each for hazardous materials workers, merchant mariners and some truckers.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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