The federal government has not created a uniform standard for biometric identification 12 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a congressional oversight hearing on Wednesday morning revealed.
The 12-year delay was just one problem identified by the congressmen on the government operations subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee. There has also been limited cooperation among different federal agencies and false promises of progress by officials to Congress.
"There’s enormous frustration. It’s not like gazillions of dollars haven’t been spent," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) said after the hearing.
Representatives of five different agencies testified about their progress implementing biometric identifications.
Subcommittee chairman John Mica (R., Fla.) illustrated the government’s lax identification standards by showing a picture of his pilot license. On it was a picture of Orville and Wilbur Wright but not Mica himself.
Mica was especially concerned about the lack of a uniform standard across the government. An official from the Department of Commerce told his committee on April 14, 2011, that the standard would be ready in a matter of months. That official has since retired.
"These people can’t do a damn thing unless you set the standard," he told Charles Romine, a director within the Department of Commerce and the retired official’s replacement.
Wednesday’s hearing was a follow up to a hearing on biometric identification cards for ports, called TWIC cards, last month.
That hearing revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had spent millions of dollars on a test program for TWIC cards that failed to reveal any meaningful data. There were also significant problems with the card readers.
A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration told Mica that they are working to establish a strong foundation for their biometric identifications so that the committee does not criticize them like Homeland Security’s TWIC program.
Romine said the Commerce Department will take some tangible steps in July toward making a government-wide standard for biometric identifications.
Mica pledged to hold another hearing in September to check in on the agencies’ progress.
"I can tell you, this is highly frustrating," he said.