PASS program ready to play the next hand

Passport card specifications from State lay groundwork for procurement

"It will be a passport in a different form factor"'Frank Moss, State Department

As technology advocates debated the State Department's first specific details of the passport card it plans to issue as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, federal officials know a final decision is far off.

But State and Homeland Security department officials do know that vendors will have a chance to make their best case in demonstrations and comments on a proposed rule. And they expect that by January 2009, the cards will be issued'as Congress has mandated.

System envisioned

In a request for information issued late last month, State envisions the passport card as a part of an integrated system linked with existing border credentials such as the NEXUS, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection and Free and Secure Trade program cards.

State and the DHS jointly introduced the PASS, or People Access Security System, on Jan. 17.

State's request for information outlines a fixed-price procurement that it will kick off with a vendors' conference on Nov. 17, with comments due on Dec. 18.

Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary of State for consular affairs, said State would issue a proposal request early next year, with the objective of beginning card production next summer.

'It will be a passport in a different form factor,' Moss said.
State seeks 'creative solutions' from the private sector, Moss said at the recent Information Technology Association of America's IdentEvent conference in Fairfax, Va.

Apparently, State seeks to fend off attempts to overturn its joint decision with DHS to adopt a card using vicinity-type, ultrahigh-frequency embedded radio frequency identification chips that comply with the EPCglobal Class-1 Gen-2 standard.

That RFID technology will be used to transmit a number that will point to the bearers' records in federal databases, and so be linked to the other information on the card. The passport card will transmit only the number when interrogated by an RFID reader from as far away as 32 feet. That feature distinguishes it from the new passport booklets with smart cards to transmit the bearer's photo and name to a reader about four inches away.

The passport card technology plan also includes a workflow model that describes the transfer of information among various databases, processing points and machines such as printing and packaging units (see diagram).

The department's procurement plan calls for a three-stage downselect process, comprising:

  • An initial evaluation phase to identify proposals that State will test further
  • A second phase during which vendors will demonstrate the claims made in their proposals
  • Product testing in the prospective vendors' facilities.

Initial reaction to the State RFI in the vendor and technology community was mixed.

Representatives of two types of technology that were either excluded or not mentioned in State's information request, the VHF or smart-card technology and the optical memory card technology, took different views.

Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance in Princeton Junction, N.J., an industry association, said, 'They said that during the public meeting on Nov. 17 they will not entertain discussion about the choice of the technology. I think it is indicative that they don't want to discuss the potential privacy and security risks that they may be facing by using long-range RFID technology.'

Vanderhoof, whose organization backs the competing VHF, or proximity, standards, said the comment period in a current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the credential would afford an opportunity for other technologies to be considered.
Stephen Price-Francis, vice president for business development of LaserCard Corp. of McLean, Va., noted that the RFI highlights State's concern for security, counterfeit resistance and privacy protection. Price-Francis' company provides the proprietary optical memory card technology for the 'Mexican border crossing card.'

He said in an e-mail that 'the RFI also touches on RFID's potential vulnerabilities. Given that Gen2's use in this application has been extremely limited to date, it is prudent to mitigate these risks as much as possible, especially since the card will inevitably be used for purposes other than border crossing involving confirmation of citizenship and ID.'

The RFI specifies several standards in addition to the card standard, a situation that led a technology analyst, who requested anonymity, to note that specifying standards can lead to a situation where the benchmarks conflict and provide opportunities for a contract award challenge.

'If they do this [procurement] this way, I guarantee that it will be two years in the making, and somebody will find a hole for a contract award challenge,' the industry analyst said.

Jennifer A. Kerber, homeland security director for ITAA, added that by going with an RFI, State is leaving the door open to consider other technologies.

State's information request describes a procurement in which the vendor'or vendors'will provide products and services ranging from passport card stock to card personalization printers and passport card readers, through the maintenance services need to provide both preventative and remedial upkeep of the equipment.

Citizens will be required to show the new passport cards or their passports when they enter the country via land ports of entry after June 1, 2009.

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