TWIC database award on hold

Nothing is final about a proposed sole source contract for an airport industry group to operate a central database for the upcoming Transportation Worker Identification Credential, a Homeland Security Department spokesman said Wednesday. An airport industry executive involved in the matter provided a similar assessment of the situation.

Several federal contractors have objected to a possible sole source contract between the Transportation Security Administration and the American Association of Airport Executives' Transportation Security Clearinghouse to run the port worker credentialing identity management system.

According to an internal document obtained by Washington Technology, the TSA is preparing to contract directly with the AAAE to operate the identity management system for TWIC. "TSA intends to enter into a contract directly with AAAE to ready the TWIC system for full implementation," the document states.

The identity management system is the central database for the credentialing program.

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser confirmed the existence of the internal document but declined to comment on it. He said Wednesday that the agency is "considering its options" for TWIC's identity management system and no decision has been made to date.

Carter Morris, senior vice president for transportation security policy for the AAAE, said the group has been in discussions with the TSA about operating the database for TWIC, but nothing has been decided. The association's clearinghouse, a non-profit branch of the association that assists TSA with background checks for aviation employees, would be the organization that partnered with TWIC.

"We have not heard anything definitive from TSA," Carter said Wednesday.

Earlier this week, news of the possible award stirred concerns.

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

The value of the contract with the airport executives group was not immediately available. Estimates for the entire TWIC program for 12 million enrollees run as high as $1.2 billion.

The department appears 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, 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. But that notice was cancelled on April 19.

Contractors believe that what is driving change is language in the department's 2006 appropriations bill stating that all credentialing programs must be operated by the airport executives' Transportation Security Clearinghouse. It is not certain, however, whether the language applies to TWIC's identity management system database.

Several federal contractors suggested Congress may not have intended for a sole source contract to 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."

Carter said the airport clearinghouse has been in a public-private partnership with the TSA since shortly after 9/11 and has processed more than 2 million employees.

"The clearinghouse has operated for four years in cooperation with the TSA," Carter said. "We have offered to leverage that partnership."

Carter said the AAAE is well qualified because it already operates an identity management system for aviation employees by collecting biometric and demographic information, checking on the quality of the information, and securing and storing the information. The actual background checks are performed by the TSA, as they would be in the TWIC as well.

Carter also said the AAAE's program is cost-effective. "We can do this for $29 a check," he said, asserting that is a lower cost than what contractors would charge.

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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