Outsourced passport work scrutinized

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The inspector general of the Government Printing Office today said his office is conducting an “end-to-end” review of the agency’s production of electronic passports.

GPO Inspector General J. Anthony Ogden said the review is part of the office’s work plan and will look at the outsourcing of some passport components, such as computer chips embedded in travel documents.

The comments follow a report in today’s editions of The Washington Times quoting congressional and GPO officials who raised security questions about the use of foreign contractors in the process.

“We do pay close attention to the issue of passport manufacturing. It is a high priority of this office,” Mr. Ogden said in an interview.

Mr. Ogden said his office’s plan includes the review “to help improve the process of manufacturing passports. That’s no secret.”

The Washington Times reported that the GPO had contracted with two European companies to produce computer chips with a wire antenna assembled at a plant in Thailand. The company in Thailand, Smartrac, charged in a court filing in Netherlands last year that its technology was stolen by China.

The outsourcing has raised concerns among investigators over the security of passports. GPO and State Department officials have sought to play down security concerns and have said they conduct regular checks of overseas manufacturers.

Mr. Ogden said deficiencies in passport manufacturing detailed in an Oct. 12 report cited by the paper were related to older, non-electronic passports.

He declined to specify what the deficiencies are but said the agency has been responsive in addressing many of the problems.

“We work with the agency, and that agency has been very receptive,” he said.

Mr. Ogden also said he did not tell congressional investigators he was unaware of large profits being made by the GPO, although he declined to detail his discussions. He referred questions about the GPO’s business practices to other GPO officials but noted that there may be differences over what is defined as profits.

Documents and interviews with Bush administration officials said the GPO made about $100 million in profits on the production of electronic passports since 2006 and their sale to the State Department far beyond the costs.

The profits are raising questions among congressional investigators about whether the GPO is complying with laws that limit its business activities to recovering printing costs on a break-even basis.

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  • About the Author
    Bill Gertz

    Bill Gertz

    Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

    He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

    Mr. ...

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