State taps General Dynamics for new passcard technology

The State Department awarded a $99.3 million, five-year contract today to a team led by General Dynamics Information Technology to print the passport card.

The contract calls for one base year and five option years. State’s Logistics Management Office, Management Acquisition unit processed the acquisition.

Other key bidders for the contract included L1 Identity Solutions and SI International.

"We saw L1 as the favorite because supply similar services to the State Department for the e-passport," said Jeremy Grant, senior vice president at the Stanford Research Group. "General Dynamics does have a decent amount of experience in producing secure ID cards for the government. They do the green card and border crossing card where they work with Laser Card."

The passport card is intended to serve as a document that U.S. citizens can use to re-enter the country. The original proposal for the card envisioned the credential as a cheaper alternative to the U.S. passport.

An individual who applies for a passport card must provide documentation equivalent to that required for a passport, and face screening through the same databases State uses to pinpoint noncitizens and various categories of miscreants.

The passport card falls under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHITI). That project, a joint effort by State and the Homeland Security Department, essentially is a method of tightening the identification requirements for individuals who enter the country claiming U.S. citizenship.

WHITI rules have progressively required more secure biometric proof of identity and citizenship for travelers arriving in this country by air and sea from Western hemisphere countries.

Eventually, the U.S. passport and the passport card will form the foundation documents for citizens who arrive at U.S. border stations.

Under current procedures, citizens can enter the country through land ports by presenting various kinds of documents, including an array of birth certificates. Government Accountability Office investigators repeatedly have reported that this procedure is prone to document fraud and impersonation fraud, among other abuses.

Officials have expressed confidence that they can build a highly secure passport card production and validation infrastructure that can handle the likely demand for the credentials, but they said that about their existing passport processing offices last winter.

The bare-bones contract award announcement stated that the agreement is not to exceed $72.7 million. However, there is a strong likelihood that State will continue issuing passport cards out into the indefinite future. Because the funds for passports and passport cards flow directly from the document applicants to the State offices that produce the credentials, the vendors generally don’t face the whims of Congress or the administration as far as losing their funding.

Grant said he doubts citizens will get very many passport cards because of the enhanced driver's licenses. He said with the pilots going on near the northern border, he said if they are successful, most people will go to their local department of motor vehicle instead of to the federal government.

State Dec. 31 issued the regulations for the Pass card and it takes affect Feb. 1. Lawmakers Dec. 17 delayed the WHTI program until June 2009, but did allocate more than $200 million for its implementation.

FCW news editor Jason Miller contributed to this story.

Wilson P. Dizard III writes for Government Computer News, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

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