DHS Taps Contractors to Continue Supplying Biometric IDs

Mark J. Terrill/AP file photo

Temporary move comes as department reevaluates $103 million award to HP for developing iris and facial recognition credentials.

This article has been updated.

The Homeland Security Department will extend for another year contracts with Deloitte and XTec for the production of biometric employee badges, while it reevaluates a $103 million award to HP for developing iris and facial recognition credentials. 

Last September, HP won a competition to enhance DHS identification cards with advanced verification features, such as scans of the colored part of the eye.

XTec, which had previously provided certain credentialing services, contested the award. The firm argued to the Government Accountability Office that "the agency did not reasonably evaluate proposals," Ralph White, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, told Nextgov.  Rather than defend itself against the protest, the agency offered to reassess each candidate.

In the meantime, DHS has decided to pay Deloitte an XTec each an undisclosed amount of money for continuing ID management services through February 2015.

Biometric smartcards, a post-Sept. 11, 2001 governmentwide requirement, are used for entering federal facilities and logging on to government networks. 

XTec’s unique, proprietary software for exchanging identification information “is the most critical service” for the ID card program and “provides services to 245,000 DHS employees and contractors,” DHS officials said in a justification for tapping the company without a competition.

In a separate explanation for directly hiring Deloitte, officials said, "the operational impacts of not awarding a task order will compromise the physical security posture and access to network system (logical access) nationwide.  And, the department noted, "75 DHS security badging locations would immediately stop."

The Deloitte task order covers computers, document scanners, fingerprint scanners, card readers, smart card printers and backdrops "while this re-evaluation and transition (if required),” is conducted, officials said.

The projected date for a new award is late February 2014, they added. 

Deloitte has held a contract for ID workstation support at DHS since September 2011. XTec won the ID data management job in 2009.

The contract with HP was to be a potentially 10-year deal. DHS officials began the search for upgraded biometric technology in May 2013. 

Aspiring contractors had to propose systems that "support future alternative biometric capabilities and standards, specifically such as facial recognition, iris capture, storage and matching," according to technical specifications.  

Before the bidding started, there had been no compatible means of exchanging eye images between cameras and card readers. Now there is. In July, the National Institute of Standards and Technology finalized guidelines for incorporating iris scans into personnel badges.