TSA does about-face on TWIC

In a reversal, the Transportation Security Administration has announced it will conduct a 'full and open competition' for all aspects of the Transportation Worker Identity Card project, including enrollment and data management services.

This is a change of direction for the program. On April 26, a TSA spokesman said the agency was considering awarding a contract for TWIC data management services to a unit of the American Association of Airport Executives trade group. A sole-source contract with the airport executives group appeared to be required under a provision in the fiscal 2006 departmental appropriations, according to industry sources.

Yesterday TSA said it was seeking a single systems integrator for TWIC and would issue a new solicitation within days for enrollment, operation of the data management system and system maintenance.

TSA said it made the decision for a single integrator after assessing several business models and reviewing the timeframe, risk and cost.

'We have looked at the entire picture, and the quickest and best implementation of TWIC will be achieved through one integrated enrollment and data integration process,' DHS assistant secretary Kip Hawley said in the announcement. 'Working with the Coast Guard and our industry partners, TSA expects that the TWIC process will be under way this year.'

The move is expected to be welcomed by biometric-industry executives, who strongly objected to the apparent sole-source award and have urged Congress to require open competition for TWIC. The outcry grew louder when it was disclosed in the news that AAAE had signed an agreement with Daon, an Irish biometric company, to subcontract TWIC work.

Daon is financed by Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond, who also is the company director. Daon's board of directors also includes former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge.

Walter Hamilton, vice president of Saflink Corp. of Bellevue, Wash., and chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association, said his primary objection was to the noncompetitive nature of the contract award. But he also said foreign ownership raised concerns.

'This is a critical information security program, and there are a lot of American companies that could do that work,' Hamilton said May 1.

The contract in question is for about 850,000 port workers. The entire TWIC program is expected to encompass about 10 million transportation workers and to cost about $1.2 billion.

The department has changed plans several times for TWIC. In a published pre-solicitation notice April 4, TSA said it was seeking a contractor to operate the TWIC identity management system as well as enrollment, help desk, enhancements and other functions. On April 19, however, that notice was canceled, and a new notice was issued strictly for TWIC enrollment services.

Also noted in yesterday's announcement, TSA referred to the program as the Transportation Workers Identity Card rather than the Transportation Workers Identification Credential. It was not immediately clear whether the program has been renamed officially.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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