This weekly feature surveys top government IT-related news -- involving all levels of government, from the federal to state and local, and international news. It is designed to give readers a primer on current trends and developments affecting the industry's major and interesting players, surveying news headlines from around the world. Washingtonpost.com's Cynthia L. Webb pens the feature. E-mail Cindy Webb Cindy Webb's Daily Filter Column
The DHS has posted a fact sheet about the Accenture award on its Web site.
It's the Bermuda connection that has quite a few lawmakers in Congress upset. Accenture may do most of its work in the good ol' USA, but its technically based on that lovely Atlantic getaway. Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) called the award "outrageous," according to The New York Times. "The Bush administration has awarded the largest homeland security contract in history to a company that has given up its U.S. citizenship and moved to Bermuda. The inconsistency is breathtaking," he said in a statement. The Washington Post picked up a similar blast from another Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas: "'Accenture isn't contributing its fair share to the costs of the very contract that it's now been given,' because of the tax advantages it receives," he said. Doggett, the Post noted, "has authored a bill to eliminate incentives for American companies that move their headquarters abroad."
Accenture has said in response that its U.S.-based unit, which got the contract, pays taxes, according to a number of the media reports on the contract. Meanwhile, the "Homeland Security Department saw no conflict in awarding the contract to a Bermuda-based company, Undersecretary of Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference," Bloomberg News reported.
DHS's Hutchinson insisted that the "future of US-VISIT is not going to be determined by this contractor," according to a quote picked up in Federal Computer Week. "We don't turn over our border security decisions and plans to the private sector, but we do want to utilize their experience ... to make this work better." According to The Financial Times, "administration officials said that Accenture -- based in Reston, Virginia, even though its corporate parent has a Bermuda address -- was considered a US company in the bidding for the contract."
No Great Loss For CSC and Lockheed?
Maybe losing out on U.S. Visit isn't such bad news for El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp. According to the L.A. Times piece, Caris & Co.'s David M. Garrity "said in a note to investors that if CSC had won the Homeland Security contract it would have had only an incremental effect on its earnings. CSC is enjoying 'an embarrassment of riches in its robust new business bookings,' he said."
As for Lockheed, the Financial Times noted "that Accenture's team includes Titan, which Lockheed has agreed to buy for $1.6bn cash."
The Ultimate Database Challenge
In winning the U.S. Visit contract, Accenture takes on one of the war on terrorism's toughest technology challenges. "There are few details on the technology the Accenture group intends to offer, but the broad idea is to take the current system of checking names and fingerprints to a higher level, integrating more databases and using more-complex scanning systems on entry and exit," the Wall Street Journal said.
Government Computer News reported that Homeland Security's request for proposals "said the U.S. Visit systems integrator would carry out the complex and challenging work of integrating more than a dozen databases the federal government uses to track travelers and terrorists, among other tasks, and plan the technical development of future border systems."
Accenture said it would charge $72 million for the first year's work for the project, The Washington Post said. In exchange for the hefty paycheck, "Accenture will help Homeland Security meet two ambitious deadlines. By Dec. 31, Homeland Security must begin fingerprinting and photographing foreigners who enter the country at the 50 busiest land borders. A Homeland Security spokesman said that initially most Canadians and Mexicans will be exempt from the program, but eventually all Mexicans and Canadians may have to comply. By Dec. 31, 2005, the program will be extended to all land crossings," the Post said.
The Inevitable Privacy Question
Government data-mining efforts like U.S. Visit have privacy advocates worried -- see last week's Government IT Review for details on the state-federal Matrix program. U.S. Visit has been sharply criticized by privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration rights groups who raise a number of important questions, including whether the personal data collected by U.S. Visit will be protected and how the government will ensure that the program does not unfairly target innocent people for deportation or denied entry.