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Industry Takes On Federal Agency: The Battle Over Who Prints Secure ID Cards

tinbee/Shutterstock.com

Technology companies that manufacture government-issued identity cards, such as green cards and driver's licenses, are accusing one federal agency of siphoning business away by engaging in unfair competition. 

Secure credential cards, which sometimes contain RFID chips that communicate with external card readers, are essential to national security because they help verify that citizens crossing checkpoints are who they claim to be, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held a hearing on the topic. 

But the technology contractors who print these cards say they are threatened by the Government Publishing Office, which also prints secure credential cards such as the State Department-issued Border Crossing Card, which authorizes holders to travel across the Mexican border. 

At the hearing, tech executives argued that GPO benefits from a broad interpretation U.S. Code's Title 44, which mandates the agency fulfill federal printing needs. In his written testimony, James Albers, senior vice president of government operations for MorphoTrust USA, which produces drivers licences and IDs in at least 42 states, urged Congress to clarify that "'printing' by or through the GPO does NOT apply to the manufacture of sophisticated secure credentials, such as the Border Crossing Card.”

Kathleen Carroll, vice president of corporate affairs of HID Global, which prints green cards for permanent residents, argued that Congress should encourage agencies to buy the most secure credentialing technology on the market -- and not to blindly support government programs. 

Companies like theirs are "faced with an existential crisis, regarding its continuing viability in the government marketplace," Albers wrote in testimony. 

During the hearing Wednesday, industry witnesses and members of Congress ridiculed GPO's printing program. 

I can tell you as far as credentialing and IDs, I've never seen a more screwed-up program in my entire life," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said, noting, among other alleged failures, that GPO's Transportation Worker Identification Cards don't yet contain the fingerprint and iris biometric data for the holder.

“As government records move from print to digital, GPO finds itself in a challenge to remain relevant and necessary," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, committee chairman, said during his remarks. The agency, he said, is projected to run out of money by 2020, unless it revamps its revenue model.

During a question-and-answer session, GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks argued the agency does not force other federal groups to award it sole-source printing contracts. Title 44, she said, simply says GPO has the authority to make secured credential cards.

"The federal agencies know that they have a choice," she said. "They can either go to the commercial sector or they can come to us," she said, adding later, "I think they deserve that choice."

Vance-Cooks also noted GPO outsources components of the printing process to the rest of the secure credential industry.

"That creates hundreds of jobs in the community and that creates multiple business opportunities," she said.

There appeared to be confusion among witnesses about how and why federal agencies decided to buy printing services from GPO. Albers testified MorphoTrust had communicated with the State Department about producing the Border Crossing Card, "The State [Department] responded to us to say, 'We were required to use GPO'… we never had an opportunity to even complain about it."

He added later, "It's been represented to me that the GPO marketing folks say, 'You have to use this.'"

But throughout the hearing, Vance-Cook repeatedly assured members of Congress and other witnesses that GPO does not have a sales or marketing team.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused Albers, one of the industry representatives, of hyperbole.

“I hardly think GPO represents an existential threat to the industry," he said, noting that GPO's secure credential printing revenue for the 2014 fiscal year only amounted to $30 million, as compared to MorphoTrust's annual revenue of roughly $650 million.

But he acknowledged, "If that grows, if everybody decides, 'We’re not going to go the competitive [request for proposal] route, we're just going to go the convenient route and contract directly with GPO,' you lose out on a lot of business."

(Image via tinbee/Shutterstock.com)

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