Officials address business hurdles to security contracting

They include liability issues, intellectual property protection and the sharing of confidential company information with the government.

A series of government experts on Tuesday addressed problems and opportunities facing businesses that provide security technologies to the government for domestic and overseas anti-terrorism activities.

Those issues include liability for technologies that fail to prevent attacks, intellectual property protection, the sharing of confidential company information with the government, information security and the ability of technologies to communicate with each other.

James Williams, director of the immigrant-tracking program known as US-VISIT, discussed the status of the program, for which the prime contractor is expected to be named this month. The multimillion-dollar program would upgrade and unify the nation's capability for tracking visitors to the United States from entry to exit.

There are three bidders to be the prime contractor: Accenture, Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed Martin. He said the department is looking to the private sector to integrate business processes with the technology, people and infrastructure necessary to implement the full program.

The department will be "rather impatient" to show results quickly, Williams said, and if the company does not help meet the department's deadlines and need for accountability, "we will look elsewhere." He added that he expects the subcontractors to change over time.

Speaking at a Bureau of National Affairs conference, Williams called the US-VISIT test program for airports and seaports "something that is emblematic of [department] success." But he said jokingly that his job is "to lower expectations ... so we can maintain our credibility."

Williams also said the department is working to ensure that individuals' privacy is protected under the program. He said U.S. privacy law does not technically cover foreign visitors, but the department chose to include them anyway. "We feel we went the extra step," he said.

Also on the panel, Unisys President Greg Baroni and Patrick Schambach, chief information officer at the Transportation Security Administration, discussed their entities' partnership. Schambach also noted that he is leaving for the private sector soon.

Earlier in the day, security contractors were told of the high risk of doing business in Iraq. "I'm not going to downplay it all; it's a dangerous environment," said James Crum, director of the Program Management Office, which is running reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

But he added that there are "very stable" pockets in the country. The office is responsible for managing $18.4 billion in funds appropriated by Congress.

Crum also said contractors have been responsible for providing their own security, but now a government program will provide security to and from work sites. He said security issues have affected productivity, and the number of local employees is down significantly.

But Crum said he expects the situation to stabilize after various Iraqi factions finish jostling for power in the lead-up to the transition from U.S. military rule expected next month. The Web site for Crum's office provides details on contracts and contractors.

Crum said a network of "first responders" to emergencies similar to that in the United States is being established in Iraq. In addition, buildings are being constructed and outfitted with modern technology, including software, that will be left behind.