Unisys contract future in doubt

Bush administration officials have singled out high-speed connectivity at airports as a major program in their Transportation Security Administration budget request for fiscal 2006. But TSA officials say they may not extend a Unisys contract to provide that connectivity, which could leave the company in the lurch.

Unisys is the prime contractor for TSA’s Information Technology Managed Services contract. Company officials say they are two-thirds of the way through the $1 billion performance-based contract in less than half of its potential seven-year term.

Unisys began developing TSA’s IT infrastructure from scratch in August 2002. The contract allows two optional two-year extensions.

“We are working with TSA as to what we do at the end of the base period as we speak,” said Mike Hatcher, Unisys’ program executive on the project. “We’ll definitely have to have more than the base period.”

He added that agency officials must raise the contract ceiling of $1 billion if the contract extends beyond the base period.

Agency officials have made no decision on the contract, said Amy Von Walter, a TSA spokeswoman.

Unisys has deployed high-speed Internet connectivity to 230 of TSA’s 550 operating locations, which include 450 commercial airports and about 100 off-site offices for federal security directors. The airports Unisys hasn’t gotten to have dial-up connectivity.

The Bush administration is seeking $174 million in the fiscal 2006 budget to complete the installation of high-speed connectivity to passenger- and baggage-screening checkpoints. Some of the largest airports in the country lack telephone or computer connections between administrative offices, screening areas and baggage locations.

The lack of high-speed connectivity probably does not adversely affect passenger wait times, TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O’Sullivan said in February. But high-speed Internet connections would support improved online training options for screeners, who often have to rely on CD-ROMs for training. The fast connections would also reduce the cost and inconsistency of training.

The bulk of Unisys’ 900-member team of employees and partners concentrates on high-speed connectivity, but about a third of their work involves developing software applications and doing integration, testing and enterprise architecture planning.

The company has also installed voice-over-IP systems at TSA’s headquarters and command center. Now, similar work is under way at field locations.

Hatcher praised TSA’s accomplishments, noting that screeners intercepted about 7 million prohibited items and more than 600 firearms at checkpoints last year.

“We’re a part of the landscape of TSA,” he said. “If you pass through airport checkpoints today and [go] back to Sept. 10, 2001, I think that most folks would agree that the thoroughness and level of professionalism today have improved tremendously.”

Experts predict that TSA will raise the ceiling for Unisys or recompete the contract, depending on the project’s status at the end of the base period. Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions, said the predicament is no surprise.

TSA could grant Unisys a sole-source award, Mather said, but if systems that Unisys has installed are at the end of their useful life and the agency would have to install new ones anyway, then TSA will probably open the competition.

“It would be difficult to say only Unisys can do this,” Mather said.

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