Bid protest stalls biometric passports

The government will push back its schedule to roll out passports embedded with biometric information from late this year to mid-2006 because of procurement problems.

The delay follows a move by the Government Printing Office to award a second round of contracts to chip vendors after a protest of its initial award, federal and industry sources said.

The delay also could prompt the State Department to ask Congress to roll back a requirement that travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries use biometric passports. State has an approved list of countries from which travelers can enter the United States without visas. State last year convinced Congress to extend the deadline for the visa waiver travelers to use biometric passports to Oct. 26.

'It is premature to say we will have an extension' of the biometric passport requirement for the visa waiver travelers, said Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary of State for consular affairs.
Last fall, GPO issued contracts to four vendors: Axalto Inc. of the Netherlands; BearingPoint Inc. of Mc- Lean, Va.; Infineon Technologies North America Corp. of San Jose, Calif.; and Supercom Inc. of New York.

The initial contracts were to test contactless chips for passports. GPO and State plan to ultimately embed chips in about 7 million passports annually, which is expected to lead to multimillion-dollar production contracts.

Following the awards Oct. 8, OTI America Inc. of Fort Lee, N.J., filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office that it later withdrew.

GPO issued a contract to OTI America on Jan. 12. Three additional vendor teams also received contracts in the second round: ASK Contactless Technologies Inc. of France, Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Oberthur Card Systems of Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

The vendors that won contracts in the first round already have provided chips to the government.

State is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to test the devices for durability, ease of manufacture, functionality and other technical characteristics, Moss said.

State and NIST will soon begin testing sample quantities of chips provided by the companies that received contracts in mid-January.

Last fall, Moss said State expected to begin producing biometric passports for tourists this month and complete the rollout process by December. Now the department will pilot production of the biometric passports this summer and field the passport production systems to all 16 U.S. passport offices by mid-2006, Moss said.

Moss added that OTI's protest prompted the delay but the situation could yield benefits for the program.

'It takes more time for testing, but it allows us access to additional proposed solutions,' he said.

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