BearingPoint Inc. of McLean won a $12 million contract from the Transportation Security Administration to begin the third phase in the agency's program to create a standard identification card for U.S. transportation employees.

During the seven-month project, BearingPoint will help the agency test a prototype of the biometric ID card, called the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. The prototype program will run at more than 40 sites involving 150,000 employees from maritime, rail, aviation and ground transportation.

The agency will collect the information necessary to issue the identification cards, perform background checks and study the day-to-day use of the smart cards by the workers as the agency prepares for a national rollout of the program.

BearingPoint will be responsible for the technical infrastructure for the cards, said Gordon Hannah, the company's program manager for the project. Among its tasks, BearingPoint will set up a Web site for workers to apply for cards. Employees will be required to appear in person to submit the necessary documents for authenticating identification, such as passports and driver's licenses. In some locations, workers may be fingerprinted as well.

While the government must approve workers for the credentials, BearingPoint will manage the process for issuing the cards. The company also will help the TSA write a report assessing the project and making recommendations for how to proceed in the next phase.

"It's a very complex system, and we want to make it as efficient as possible," Hannah said.

Eventually, the agency expects to issue the cards to as many as 12 million workers to improve security at airports, ports and other transportation facilities.

A prototype biometric card is to be tested in three regions: Camden, N.J., Islip, N.Y., Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del.; the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.; and the 14 major port facilities in Florida.

TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said the three regions volunteered to participate. The agency has selected a card incorporating an integrated circuit chip as the standard to be evaluated during the pilot program, though other technologies, such as optical memory strips, magnetic stripes, 2-D bar codes, linear bar codes and digital photographs, will be supported to facilitate the use of legacy systems now in place, Kayser said.

As part of the testing program, the TSA will be doing background checks on transportation workers in California and the Delaware River Valley who volunteer to participate. "Florida has a state law that requires certain aspects of this [program], and they will be doing background checks beyond what we're doing," Kayser said. "They'll be doing fingerprints."

BearingPoint was one of four prime contractors chosen by the TSA for the first or planning phase of the card program; the other three were Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles; Maximus Inc. of Reston, and EDS Corp. of Plano, Tex. The second phase, evaluating alternative technologies, was awarded to Maximus, with EDS as a teammate.

For more details on this and other technology contracts, go to Patience Wait is a staff writer with Washington Technology.