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Surprise! Private Firms Make Better, Cheaper Green Cards Than Feds

Private sector executives told a House committee Wednesday that the Government Publishing Office is encroaching on the market for secure identity documents like green cards and border crossing cards, but the agency’s top official said the result is only increasing competition.

“Unfair competition from [GPO] has distorted the marketplace for the manufacture of secure credentials for federal agencies, undermining the foundation of this industry – in a way that threatens our nation’s ability to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters, would-be terrorists, and other criminal elements,” MorphoTrust USA Senior Vice President of Government Operations James N. Albers told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Private sector firms must compete to offer an efficient and cost-effective product. But government agencies can forgo the comprehensive bidding process by going directly to GPO, regardless of price or capability.

“Full and open competition means contractors compete against each other on both the quality of the solution and the price,” said oversight committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican. “This ultimately benefits the American taxpayer and I believe provides a better end product.”

But “the GPO’s aggressive expansion into the federal secure credentials market removes the financial incentives for industry to invest in innovation,” Albers said. And they do this with a series of competitive advantages that make it difficult for companies to compete … There is no incentive for innovation, quality assurance or taxpayer savings.”

GPO entered the market in 2007 with the approval of its oversight body – the Joint Committee on Printing, said GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks.

Albers and HID Global Inc. Vice President for Corporate Affairs Kathleen Carroll said GPO was acting beyond its statutory jurisdiction, though Vance-Cooks disagreed, since it involved printing documents.

GPO’s entrance enhanced, rather than hindered competition, according to Vance-Cooks.

“Our secure credential program is a government-to-government solution, backed by a robust and close partnership with multiple private sector companies,” she said.

Border Crossing Cards cost $6.01 for each document. Meanwhile, green cards – a comparable product –created by HID are much more technologically advanced and secure and cost only $2.50 per document, according to Carroll.

“Our program is an option – a choice – for federal agencies, and we do not require them to use us,” Vance-Cooks said.

But a 2013 memo from a Department of State official asserted that his agency was required to use GPO’s services over the private sector, according to Chaffetz.

“That seems to be directly opposite of what you’re saying,” Chaffetz said. “You do have a bit of a monopoly if you convince people to come to you.”

But Vance-Cooks claimed GPO wasn’t behind such a directive and argued that no one from her office solicits or forces agencies to rely on its services.

The secure documents aren’t simply a piece of paper – material like passports and border crossing cards contain complex computer chips that contain information and are used to prevent counterfeiting.

The highly technical skills needed to create these documents “are best performed by a competitive private sector,” Albers said, though he wouldn’t go so far as to say the GPO’s products could be counterfeited easier.

“GPO certainly knows how to print, but do they have the capacity to innovate and provide reliably secure credentials?” Chaffetz said. It’s unclear if identification documents for agencies handling immigration “are both secure and functional.”

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