FBI seeks interim solution

The FBI plans to award three contracts that will give it access to state and local digital fingerprint files a move observers say is a stopgap measure to provide the bureau with limited search-and-match fingerprint capabilities as it struggles to get its $521 million Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System on track.

The FBI plans to award contracts on a sole-source basis to Printrak International Inc. Anaheim Calif. North American Morpho Systems Inc. Tacoma Wash. and NEC Technologies Inc. Foxboro Mass. Under the contracts which are not part of the IAFIS project the FBI plans to purchase workstations and communications systems valued at $300 000 from each vendor so that it can access Automated Fingerprint Identification System databases operated by state and local law enforcement agencies.

More than 40 state law enforcement agencies use AFIS along with an undetermined number of local law enforcement agencies. The contract with the three vendors will give the FBI access to about 95 percent of those systems said Dave McNeff vice president of sales for Printrak. The state and local systems use different standards for storing and searching fingerprints depending upon which vendor system was purchased.

The FBI still will have to seek agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to access the AFIS databases. This will give the bureau a way to access fingerprint files digitally in certain jurisdictions while it finishes developing the large and complicated IAFIS system which will store an estimated 40 million sets of 10-print fingerprint files once it is completed in 1999. Through a powerful search engine IAFIS will match prints within hours rather than the months it takes now.

But the completion of IAFIS has slipped 18 months according to a report the FBI submitted this year to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice State and Judiciary. FBI officials estimate IAFIS is as much as $119 million over budget because of problems integrating the different components of the system and newly mandated requirements such as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System which will require gun retailers to access a database by 1998 to check the backgrounds of people buying firearms.

Purchasing the three vendors' workstations and communications systems under a contract that will last five years indicates that the FBI is far behind schedule said experts on AFIS and the FBI. "This represents an interim capability until IAFIS is up and running " McNeff said.

FBI officials declined to comment on the contract or IAFIS. Officials with NEC and North American Morpho could not be reached for comment.

But Peter Higgins president of Higgins & Associates International Washington D.C. said the contract is an indication that the FBI is far behind schedule. He added that such a system cannot replace IAFIS because it cannot handle the millions of searches that IAFIS will be required to do when it is completed.

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