THE MAGAZINE

Better Controls for Contractors

By John Barham

Before contract employees can enter the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters, they must be fingerprinted and pass a rigorous screening process.

The U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. is a busy place. About 65,000 people enter its doors every month. About 9,000 of these people work for outside contractors, as well as for the subcontractors they have hired, and each of them needs to be vetted.

The growing trends of outsourcing and subcontracting has increased the number of vendors and contractors entering installations. They include delivery personnel, white-collar staff working on projects that do not require security clearance as well as cafeteria, cleaning, and maintenance workers.

Ensuring that none of these personnel present a security risk is a challenge. Wayne Truax, head of security at Coast Guard headquarters, sought a solution. Truax began looking for an access control system that could quickly and accurately screen and identify repeat visitors, such as contractor employees. He needed an offering that could be easily integrated into the Coast Guard’s existing control system. Ideally, he wanted a system that could be structured in a way that did not require his security staff to spend time collecting data or issuing badges.

“Some providers were offering background screening but did not have access control,” says Truax. But EID Passport, a startup based in Portland, Oregon, said that its RAPIDGate technology could provide identity verification, screening, and access control systems in a single package.

Steve Larson, founder and CEO of EID Passport, says outsourcing has become so common that government departments “have no idea who their vendors and contractors are.” He says his system is designed to authenticate their history, identify them, and issue inviolable access cards.

Under this system, once a supplier has won a Coast Guard contract, it must obtain access cards from EID Passport before its employees can enter the building. In order to obtain the card, the employees go to Coast Guard Headquarters to enter required personal data and have their picture and fingerprints taken at a dedicated EID Passport kiosk in the nonrestricted public area of the lobby.

EID Passport first ensures that the workers are indeed bona fide employees. It then runs a ten-year felony background check, checks against terrorist and sexual offender watch lists, and cross references Social Security numbers. The system has weeded out convicted murderers, drug users, sex offenders, and people using fake Social Security numbers.

Once the check has been completed, which normally takes about four to five days, EID Passport delivers the employees’ access cards to Coast Guard headquarters. The card has a picture, name, and a bar code that activates turnstiles at the building. If necessary, guards can also scan cards with a wireless handheld device. EID Passport updates profiles of each cardholder every three months.

Before a card can be used for the first time, it has to be activated. The contract worker meets with Truax, and then both Truax and the worker must enter a code to complete the initiation process.

Depending on the location, passes can include biometric fingerprint data or an RFID transmitter, which automatically records the time and place the cardholder exited an installation.

RAPIDGate has been deployed at Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard bases across the country. It enables these installations to comply with new government requirements for a common identification standard for federal employees and contractors.

The Coast Guard began introducing RAPIDGate in November 2005. EID Passport adapted its system to ease integration with the Coast Guard’s existing MAXxess access control system for fulltime employees. Truax says the provider “customized the RAPIDGate system to read badges and work with the bar-code systems and electronic turnstiles in the building.”

Workers can enter through the building’s turnstiles or guards can scan the badges using handheld wireless units. Badges are valid for a year.

Truax reports no significant software conflicts. “We never had an issue of cross-contamination of our systems touching each other.” And because the system is a closed network, it is immune to hacking from outsiders.

Truax says tighter screening at Coast Guard headquarters has raised the level of the contract work force. “We get a higher quality of worker because of this; they are better qualified than before, and there is less turnover,” he says.

In addition, it is now easier for the Coast Guard to maintain up-to-date records regarding which contract employees are still working on a project at the facility. Whenever a worker is terminated or a project has finished, the profiles of those workers are removed from the Coast Guard’s system, which automatically notifies EID Passport to cancel their access to the building.

And should the Coast Guard ever have to evacuate the building and transfer operations to a mirror site, EID Passport says it can set up a backup access control system within 48 hours. Data on contractors is held on remote servers and can be hooked up to the new site by a regular telephone connection or any Internet link.

EID Passport sells RAPIDGate as a turnkey system. The company installs and maintains all equipment, provides account management, and operates a call center.

In theory, the entire system is free of charge to the end user, because EID charges the registration fee to contractors, but contractors now include the fees in their bids for Coast Guard projects. There is a $200 registration fee per contractor and a further $150 per employee for the background check.

Contractors benefit also because they can use RAPIDGate data to monitor their employees’ activities. Employers can be certain that workers have reported for duty on time and not left early. Says Truax, “I know when a contractor has entered the building and what time they left.” Absenteeism has fallen sharply as a result.

(For more information: EID Passport, 503/924-5300, www.eidpassport.com.)

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