Fingerprint work added to earlier IAFIS pact

Just weeks away from award, the FBI last month canceled its $25 million Fingerprint Image Capture System (FICS) contract, the last of five contracts that will make up the bureau's high-profile Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

FBI officials said the contract was canceled because the agency determined that FICS, which would have converted an estimated 40,000 fingerprint cards a day into a digital format, can be handled by a vendor that was awarded a previous fingerprint-conversion contract under IAFIS.

In 1994, North American Morpho Inc., Tacoma, Wash., won a $35 million contract to convert the 33 million paper fingerprint cards that the FBI has on file to digital images.

Because the two contracts were so similar and North American Morpho already was set up to handle the conversions, FBI officials decided "there wasn't as much need for FICS and there would be less risk associated with" giving the work to North American Morpho, an FBI spokesman said.

The spokesman added that the FBI was not concerned that the abrupt change might cause pro-tests. North American

Morpho officials could not be reached for comment.

Imaging industry sources contradicted the FBI's reasons for the contract cancellation.

"What I'm hearing is that state and local agencies can't afford the scanners," an industry source said on the condition of anonymity.

The FBI has required scanners to capture fingerprint images at 500 dots per inch. Scanners that offer that high-end capability cost about $80,000 apiece.

Another source speculated that the contract was canceled because of limited competition.

"I believe the FBI may have started to feel a little skittish about protests if it awarded the contract to...the only bidder," the source said.

Officials at companies believed to be interested in bidding, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and a team of Northrop Grumman Data Systems and Hughes Data Systems, declined to comment.

History of Delay

The FICS cancellation marks the end to a long delay for FICS.

In 1993, the contract was delayed after Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the agency that the FBI first tapped to manage day-to-day fingerprint scanning, ran into technical difficulties.

Then, in April 1995, the FBI procurement office withdrew FICS for unknown reasons before the RFP was released.

If no protests are filed, the FBI will have finished awarding all the contracts for the $397 million IAFIS project, which is scheduled to go on-line in 1999.

So far contracts have been awarded to the following companies:

* PRC Inc. to manage the $200 million Interstate Transmission and Networking project, which will store an estimated 40 million fingerprints.

* Science Applications International Corp. to bind fingerprint images to text.

* North American Morpho to convert the existing 33 million fingerprints on paper cards to digital format.

* Lockheed Martin to develop the search engine that matches fingerprints to those found at a crime scene or to an individual who has been arrested.

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