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House Approves $10B Accenture Deal

One last effort to kill a potential $10 billion deal between Accenture and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed Friday on a largely partisan 221-182 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Under the DHS contract, Bermuda-based Accenture will serve as the prime contractor on a 10-year project to deploy a biometrics-based "virtual border" visitor screening system. U.S.-based Lockheed Martin and Computer Science Corp. also bid on the contract.

Since DHS announced the deal on June 1, House Democrats have objected to granting homeland defense contracts to foreign corporations. Last year, Congress approved a law prohibiting the DHS from contracting with foreign companies but grandfathered companies such as Accenture that were already incorporated overseas.

After Democrats successfully attached an amendment last week to the $33 billion DHS budget that would strip the deal from Accenture, the House Rules Committee on Wednesday quashed the measure through parliamentary maneuvering. The Rules Committee did approve a provision in the amendment that would bar DHS from doing business with foreign corporations in the future.

Friday morning, Democrats, who admit the Accenture contract is legal but violates the spirit of the law, again attempted to amend the DHS budget to halt the contract.

"Last year, 318 members of this House voted to approve the exact same language that is in this amendment," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said. "What we are now saying is that Accenture is not going to get any more contracts, but they are going to get the $10 billion deal."

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) led the opposition to the amendment. He argued that putting the contract back out for bid would delay the DHS project by at least two years and cost 35,000 jobs, many of which are in Davis' home district where Accenture LLP, the division charged with leading the contract, is located.

"This amendment is unfortunate," Davis said. "Can you imagine the penalty costs for canceling the deal? This singles out one company when there are literally dozens of global-based companies doing business with the United States and the Department of Defense."

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), whose district is also located in the technology corridor of Northern Virginia, added, "This is a legal contract, fully legitimate."

Republican Tom Tancredo of California said, "No one has argued that this company [Accenture] does not provide the best services and products for this project."

The Accenture contract is part of the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which is built around the concept of a virtual border. When fully implemented, it should help the DHS assess the security risks of all U.S.-bound travelers and prevent potential threats from reaching U.S. borders.

The system will record the entry and exit of visitors through the use of biometric technology, such as inkless digital-finger scans and digital photos captured at the ports of entry. The information will be maintained in a DHS database designed by the Accenture team.

Key subcontractors of Accenture's "Smart Border Alliance" include Raytheon , The Titan Corp. , and SRA International .

According to DHS, the contract includes five base years with five option years. While the contract has a minimum value of $10 million, its top value of $10 billion is theoretical since it involves budgets not yet approved by Congress.

Currently, US-VISIT requires that most foreign visitors traveling to the United States on a visa and arriving at a land or seaport have their two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken to verify their identity at the port of entry.

Since first initiating the program in January at 115 airports and 14 seaports, more than 4.5 million foreign nationals have been processed through the system. According to DHS, the system has helped intercept more than 500 persons with prior or suspected criminal or immigration violations.

Congress has mandated that US-VISIT must be deployed at the top 50 U.S. land ports of entry by December 31.