Lockheed round-upReliability continues to plague TWIC

Published 26 January 2007

Lockheed wins a major $70 million contract, but low bidding may hide quality issues; “bait and switch” says one critic; cards said to suffer 50 percent error rates with unacceptable processing times; flimsy card stock at issue

In our report yesterday regarding DHS’s decision to award a major part of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) to Lockheed, we remarked that it was our sincere hope that the technical issues involving maritime card readers had been resolved. Unfortunately, we may have spoken too soon. According to Washington Technology, initial tests of TWIC cards have shown high failure rates and unexpectedly long processing times, and there is good reason to believe that similar problems will bedevil the Lockheed portion of the program. One hint: the $70 million value of the announced contract — far below the $100 million initially estimated. “To come in 10 percent below the government’s estimate is reasonable. To come in 20 percent below is passable. But to come in 30 percent less is ridiculous,” said one unnamed source. “It appears that it may be a classic case of ‘bait and switch’ [pricing].”

According to sources presumed to know, TWIC program managers have not been as ruthless about quality as they might be. Officials, it is said, are allowing the use of cards that fail at rates between 25 and 50 percent, and many take as long as nine minutes to read. One major problem: low grade card stock and data chips that are “virtually painted on,” leading them to fail quickly and revert to an old-fashioned status as flash-cards. Other problems include the inability to distinguish between high level federal workers and casual dock workers, the ability to distinguish between cards issued inside and outside the United States, and weak security regimes that leave them open to counterfeiting. “The TWIC card is a godsend to visa overstays and illegal aliens,” one source said. “The likelihood of having the TWIC card scanned is very low.”

-read more in Wilson P. Dizard III’s Washington Technology report