Political pork and the tamper-proof identification card

The NY Times today ran a long story on how Homeland Security’s lagging efforts to prepare such a card have been in part controlled by a Kentucky congressman referred in his own district as Prince of Pork. Other efforts to produce a reliable card such as the Real ID program for motor vehicles are largely dead in the water. (State motor vehicle departments have a hard enough time answering their phones.) Until one is available, it is very difficult to regulate the movement of illegal immigrants. Concerned as I am about the dangers of such a card to civil liberties, I believe that a tamper proof card can be valuable in certain instances to protect the public as well as the guarantee certain rights and benefits to the carrier.
Following are excerpts from the article:
The Department of Homeland Security has invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours of labor over the last four years on a seemingly simple task: creating a tamperproof identification card for airport, rail and maritime workers. Yet nearly two years past a planned deadline, production of the card, known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, has yet to begin.
Instead, the road to delivering this critical antiterrorism tool has taken detours to locations, companies and groups often linked to [13 termer] Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who is the powerful chairman of the House subcommittee that controls the Homeland Security budget. Work has even been set aside for a tiny start-up company in Kentucky that employs John Rogers, the congressman’s son.

“Something stinks in Corbin [KY],” said Jay M. Meier, senior securities analyst at MJSK Equity Research in Minneapolis, which follows the identification card industry, referring to the Kentucky community of 8,000 that has perhaps benefited the most from Mr. Rogers’s interventions. “And it is the sickest example of what is wrong with our homeland security agenda that I can find.”
Corbin was settled as a railroad depot for nearby coal mines, and its first claim to fame came with Col. Harland Sanders, who began serving up dishes of fried chicken there in the 1930’s. Mr. Rogers has made it a mission to create a new growth industry: domestic security. Mr. Rogers began his push even before the 2001 terrorist attacks, when he was elevated, in 1995, just after Republicans took control of Congress, to the so-called College of Cardinals, the elite body of chairmen of House appropriations subcommittees that help control the federal budget.
The Clinton administration needed Congressional backing — and money — to fix problems it was having in printing a new fraud-resistant green card for permanent legal immigrants. To win Mr. Rogers’s endorsement, administration officials offered to set up the centralized card production plant in Corbin.
The transportation worker identification card, first proposed in 2002, would be an identity card equivalent of a maximum security prison. Not only would it be tamperproof, it would eventually allow transportation workers to be positively identified by a fingerprint in less than half a second. To ensure security, the card and the automated reader at the port entrance gate would have to communicate, like two small computers.
But within months after the plans for the card were announced, Mr. Rogers started to intervene. He inserted language into appropriations bills that effectively pushed the government to use the same patented green card technology and to produce this new card in Corbin. Language added in 2003, again in a report submitted in Mr. Rogers’s name, urged the agency to use “existing government card issuance centers” to make the card, which Homeland Security officials said, in their view, referred to Corbin. The law blocked spending until the department bowed to the mandates.
Two former Homeland Security officials said they were confounded. They had already identified a more flexible and secure technology known as a smart card, which relies on tiny computer chips embedded into the identification card. Most other federal agencies were moving toward this approach rather than the technology used for the green card, in which data are recorded on a reflective optical stripe affixed to the card.
Officials there said they had no choice but to follow the orders. So in 2003, at a cost of $4 million, the department hired a contractor to study both alternatives. The study concluded that the smart card approach was far superior.
Kentucky companies turned up in each phase of the early tests of the identification cards.
One of the companies, Senture, which sells call-center services, had a particularly close relationship with Mr. Rogers. Senture had just opened its doors in May 2003, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that Mr. Rogers attended. In 2004, Mr. Rogers arranged the financing for a $4 million Homeland Security contract for Senture to field calls from truckers.
Now, Senture would land even more department work, as BearingPoint, a Virginia company hired in 2004 to test prototype transportation worker cards, selected Senture to set up a call center for the test. About the time that contract was first advertised, but before it was awarded, John Rogers, the congressman’s son, was hired by Senture as a computer systems administrator.
In all, about $100,000 in contributions have come to Mr. Rogers from parties with at least some ties to the identification card effort, records show.
When tests on a smart card prototype identification card finally got under way in November 2004, the program again ran into an obstacle. To try to speed up the work, contractors decided initially to produce the prototype cards in Pennsylvania. But Homeland Security required that the work be moved, because to comply with the Congressional mandate, it had been written into BearingPoint’s contract that the card production take place in Corbin, Mr. Kayser, the Homeland Security spokesman, said.
One former Homeland Security official said that the demand, given that the card production had already started, made little sense: only about 5,000 cards would be printed as part of the test. But still, the smart card printing equipment was picked up and sent to Corbin, adding to the expense and causing another delay.
storing personal information.
Yet while the debate over card technology and printing dragged on, a separate fight involving Mr. Rogers was playing out. Starting in 2004, his staff repeatedly pressed the Transportation Security Administration to hire a nonprofit Virginia-based trade association, the American Association of Airport Executives, to help handle background checks that transportation workers had to undergo to get identification cards. The trade association had no connection to Corbin, but it had longstanding ties to Mr. Rogers.
Since 2000, it has paid for trips by Mr. Rogers and his wife worth more than $75,000, including the six visits to Hawaii, four to California and one to Ireland, financial disclosure records show. Last year alone, Mr. Rogers spent a total of two weeks traveling on the association’s tab.
Mr. Rogers, after his staff was unable to persuade Homeland Security officials to hire the trade association voluntarily for the identification card program, inserted language last May into the 2006 appropriations bill that mandated such a move. It was necessary, Mr. Rogers said at the time, because the airport group also helped handle background checks for airport workers. It made no sense, he said, to hire yet another contractor.
Late last year, while Congress was considering the specific allocation for the airport group, the trade association’s executives went shopping for investors willing to put up as much as $25 million to share in the new for-profit venture they decided to create to capitalize on the deal. The company ultimately selected to serve as that investor and as a partner, Daon, was also familiar to Mr. Rogers. It had sponsored, along with the airport executives group, a July 2005 conference and golf outing that the congressman attended in Dublin, where Daon is based.
Daon, a biometrics software company with offices in Reston, Va., is well connected in Washington; Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary, serves on its board. Tom Grissen, Daon’s chief executive, would not say in an interview how much Daon invested in the airport trade group partnership. He said that Mr. Ridge played no role in the effort.
After Homeland Security moved this spring to comply with Mr. Rogers’s legislative mandate and hire the airport trade group, executives in the intensely competitive biometrics industry protested. “It is a sleazy arrangement,” said Walter Hamilton, chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association. Finally, last Thursday evening, as lobbyists for Daon’s rivals pressed Congress to rescind the deal, Homeland Security, and Mr. Rogers, issued separate statements, reversing course. The no-bid contract for the airport executives would be killed. This would mean another delay, because the advertisement for the bidding would have to start over again.
No one has moved to reverse the Congressional directive mandating where the cards are produced. So when the identification cards do start to roll off the production line — which Homeland Security officials say they hope will happen by early next year — the plan still calls for them to be made in the town that Kentucky Fried Chicken first made famous.