Increased airport security opens up contracting opportunities


Customs and Border Protection agents use biometric technology to process arriving foreign passengers at Washington Dulles International Airport. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Since the Department of Homeland Security was founded and traveler security ramped up, local contractors have found new opportunities in biometric technology used for airport screenings and at border crossings.

Now, some of these firms are expanding the work they have while looking outside the United States for more opportunities.

Take Accenture, which bases its federal business in Reston. Last month, the company received a 13-month, $71 million contract to expand its work on the identity management system central to the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, or US-VISIT, program.

The program has two parts: a database that pairs an individual’s travel history with his or her immigration status, and a system for processing photos and fingerprints of travelers entering the United States so customs officers can verify their identity.

Accenture manages the biometric processing system, part of a contract that began in 2004. Tom Greiner, Accenture’s program manager for US-VISIT, said the company recently won funding to broaden that effort, including a pilot program to test the accuracy of systems that identify people by the iris in their eye. Accenture is also being asked to make it easier for other federal agencies to use the database and to expand the system to take 10 fingerprints instead of just two.

Reston-based 3M Cogent provides the fingerprint technology used in the US-VISIT program, said Jim Jasinski, an executive vice president at 3M Cogent.

The company worked in border security before the Department of Homeland Security was established, but he said the advent of the agency created more contracting opportunities.

Unisys, which bases its federal business in Reston, is upgrading Los Angeles’s airport infrastructure as part of an effort that would eventually lead to using biometrics to identify airport workers. The company is tracking contracts in the United States and in foreign countries that would rely on biometrics such as iris or facial scans.

“Clearly that is a fairly rapidly growing security space for us — both in the federal sector and in the commercial sector,” said Andre Eaddy, director of cybersecurity portfolio solutions for Unisys’s federal systems unit. “We’re seeing interest worldwide.”

So far, DHS contract spending has not grown as significantly as that of the Pentagon, said David J. Berteau, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But DHS’s interest created “a much bigger market” for biometrics, Berteau said.

It has also given U.S. companies a leg up overseas. Accenture, for instance, won a spot on a program in India enrolling all of the country’s citizens in a national ID program that captures irises and fingerprints, while Unisys has won biometric work in Mexico and Australia.

In Mexico, the company’s local subsidiary has been tasked with creating a database with iris, fingerprint and facial biometric data on as many as 110 million Mexican citizens.

Jasinski said the U.S. market remains the largest single market but that international opportunities collectively are growing at a faster pace.

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