GPO faces accusations of ‘unfair competition’ in secure credential printing
23 October 2015 11:30 GMT

Senior US Government Publishing Office (GPO) staff have defended how GPO has been providing Federal agencies with secure credentials, following a hearing that saw private sector firms accuse the office of unfair competition.

In a statement before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks noted that, to date, that the GPO has produced over nine million secure credential cards across 15 different secure credential product lines.

“Our secure credential program is a government-to-government solution, backed by a robust and close partnership with multiple private sector companies. In designing and producing secure credentials, we serve as a printer and card integrator.”

He added that the GPO’s “long-standing reputation as a quality producer of  the ePassport has brought customer agencies to us,” while saying that the GPO has “no need for sales teams”. Vance-Cooks also highlighted that government agencies do have the option to outsource secure credentials and agreed to send a letter to remind them of their choices.

The GPO comments come following accusations from companies operating in the space that the GPO was pushing them out of fair and open competition in the federal secure credentials space.

Jim Albers, senior vice president of Government Operations at MorphoTrust USA, wrote in a statement to the committee that “unfair competition from the GPO has distorted the marketplace for the manufacture of secure credentials for Federal agencies”.

He said this undermines the foundation of the secure credential industry: “In a way that threatens our nation’s ability to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters, would-be terrorists, and other criminal elements.

“There’s a belief that GPO enjoys a loophole in Title 44,” Albers said. “When you remove competition, you destroy capitalism.”

MorphoTrust, which manufactures most of the nation’s driver’s licenses, also described receiving a letter from the State Department’s Office of Competition Advocate saying the department was now required under US Code, Title 44 to shift passport production to GPO.

“GPO … aggressively markets its manufacturing services to Executive Branch agencies, with the claim that it is the sole legal source of these ID cards,  because Title 44 made them 'the Government’s printer.'” Kathleen Carroll, vice president of corporate affairs at HID Global, told the committee.

"With no legislative direction or authority from Congress, the GPO has broadly interpreted its mandate under Title 44 – which created the GPO to provide printing services for the Legislative Branch – to become a manufacturer of secure credential technology. "

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was chairing the committee had said that “As government records move from print to digital, GPO finds itself in a challenge to remain relevant and necessary. …. “One major change to its business model involves GPO supplying secure credentials containing radio frequency identification chips to government agencies handling our nation’s immigration functions. It is unclear, however, if those documents are both secure and functional.”

Albers  added: “Given the threats our country faces, now more than ever, the United States Government needs strong industry partners that are committed to security, quality, and investing in innovation. However, the GPO’s aggressive expansion into the federal secure credentials market removes the financial incentives for industry to invest in innovation.”

At the hearing Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., attacked Vance-Cooks for defnding her agency despite issues with the government’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential card, saying it was “a multi-billion-dollar fiasco.”

A lack of biometric data such as thumb print and iris data render the cards worthless because the user needs a second form of identification, he said. “I’ve never seen a more screwed-up programme.” Mica said.