GPO gets into the card business
Government Printing Office builds on passport expertise for secure border crossing cards
- By William Jackson
- Oct 24, 2008
THE GOVERNMENT Printing Office is designing, printing and
personalizing cards for the Customs and Border Protection's
(CBP) Trusted Traveler program. The job is the agency's
latest move into the arena of secure electronic documents.
'This project presents an incredible opportunity for the
GPO to be part of a larger spectrum of secure documents,'
said Steve LeBlanc, GPO's managing director of security and
As more sensitive data moves from traditional paper documents to
electronic formats, GPO is expanding its efforts to bring the
production of electronic documents in-house to give the government
control over the entire production process. GPO is using the
experience it gained in producing more than 20 million electronic
passports a year for the State Department.
'We use the same skill sets,' and the same employees
in GPO's Secure Card Personalization Center in Washington to
produce trusted passports and traveler cards, LeBlanc said.
GPO created its Security and Intelligent Document Unit, which
has about 200 employees, to take advantage of its passport
experience and apply it to other documents, which also could
include the military's Common Access Card and its
counterpart, the personal identity verification cards for civilian
agencies and contractors.
The Trusted Traveler program provides expedited CBP processing
at Canada and Mexico border crossings for people who have undergone
background checks. The program maintains three databases of
traveler information, and each has its own intelligent ID card that
contains an radio frequency chip for remote reading. The programs
are Nexus, for travel between the United States and Canada; Secure
Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), for use
on the U.S./Mexico border; and Free and Secure Trade, for approved
commercial truck drivers traveling between the three countries.
The cards will satisfy travel document requirements under the
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which will go into effect
Before GPO's entry into the market, the only source for
secure cards was commercial manufacturers.
'We're providing a government option,' which
offers better security because GPO controls the entire supply
chain, LeBlanc said. GPO buys all the components, prints them,
personalizes them with data supplied by CBP and mails them to the
The production process is not simple. The cards have more than
10 layers of material, including the radio frequency chip, and some
offset printing, laser engraving and holograms. GPO does the
printing on the individual layers and sends the parts to a company
that laminates them into a single card, which is returned to GPO to
have data uploaded to the chip.
The chip and a UHF antenna array embedded in the card transmit a
unique identifier associated with an entry in the appropriate CBP
database. The identifier allows border agents to electronically
access the holder's record and photo as the vehicle
approaches. The holder's identity then is verified by visual
comparison of the individual with a photo in the database and on
the card being displayed.
'We didn't have the capability to do laser engraving
when we started, so we partnered with a private firm' at
first, LeBlanc said. Now the unit has the equipment and the
expertise to produce the cards.
Personal data on the cardholder is supplied by CBP to GPO via a
secure communications link similar to that used for passport
'We don't hold personal information any longer than
we have to,' LeBlanc said.
GPO has produced 150,000 SENTRI cards since May and plans to
begin producing Nexus cards this fall. The agency expects to
produce a total of more than 500,000 cards.
William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.