Navy Ditches Access Card System for Tens of Thousands of Workers

The U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG) main gate, March 18, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Jeffrey Landis)
The U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG) main gate, March 18, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Jeffrey Landis)

Four years after a scathing federal report found that a child molester and other convicted criminals gained unfettered access to Navy bases through a popular background vetting service, officials last week announced they're phasing in a new I.D. system.

Dated Wednesday, an advisory by Navy Installations Command in Washington, D.C., ordered commanders to immediately begin transitioning to the Defense Biometrics Identification Systems -- called DBIDS -- in a process expected to take six months to complete.

The move scraps the service's use of the Rapidgate passes relied on by truck drivers, ship repair workers and other non-federal employees to quickly access Navy bases. By July 15, badge and decal offices in the continental United States, Hawaii and Guam must screen the backgrounds of all contractors and their employees routinely making unescorted trips to Navy bases for criminal convictions, active warrants and other disqualifying misconduct.

The Navy will issue to qualified vendors a DBIDs paper pass good for 90 days. By Oct. 12, these cards will be replaced by DBIDS cards.

Derry Pence, President, Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association, estimated that about 10,000 employees of his organization's 160 members could be affected by the switch from the Rapidgate system. Instead of overwhelming each base's badge and decal office, Navy officials were reserving specific days for federal screeners to vet the contractors' workers, he said. Pence urged employees with questions about the switch to DBIDS to talk to their bosses.

"They seem to be trying to make this go as smoothly as possible so it doesn't impact us," he said.

Military officials in Washington did not respond to requests for comment for this story, but Navy Region Southwest security director Matthew Crews reported no problems with the initial roll out at the command's 10 installations in California and Nevada.

A late 2013 report by the Department of Defense Inspector General found that at two unnamed installations in Navy Region Southwest were accessed by 10 Rapidgate pass holders who should have been denied credentials because of prior convictions. The inspector general found that nationwide, 52 felons who routinely entered Navy installations over a span of 62 to 1,035 days before their criminal records were discovered. That put "military personnel, dependents, civilians and installations at an increased security risk," the report concluded.

One of the unnamed felons had been convicted of taking "indecent liberties with a child." Investigators concluded that "due to the unreliable accuracy of vetting contractors through the Rapidgate system, the claimed reductions in security risk provided installation commanders with a false sense of security, leaving installations exposed to potentially hostile actions."

They recommended that the Navy halt the third-party verification service offered by Oregon-based Eid Passport, Inc., and replace it with a system that better followed federal vetting guidelines.

Under Rapidgate, vendors doing business on bases paid Eid Passport to run the background checks and issue the passes, displacing most costs to the private sector and not the armed forces.

Navy officials initially balked at the inspector general's advice, arguing in a written response to the findings that Rapidgate was superior to the system it replaced and that ending it would trigger "long lines at Navy access points, resulting in productivity loss for contractors doing business on Navy installations, and would require hiring additional civil servants to work in base pass offices."

In 2015, Eid Passport changed its name to SureID.

In a written response to the Union-Tribune, SureID noted that the Navy "non-concurred" on every major finding in the inspector general's report. The company worked with the military to create and implement a new program that sifts vendor names through the National Crime Information Center, the Interstate Identification Index and commercial background checks, a level of security DBIBS does not offer.

SureID's new vetting program likely will continue to be used by vendors seeking to enter Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard bases nationwide. That system, SureID president James Robell told the Union-Tribune, had turned up about 600 felons who would have been overlooked by other background checks.

"That's 600 people who would've been able to go onto Navy installations with bad criminal backgrounds," Robell said. "That's a concern to us."

Robell said that the Navy failed to coordinate with SureID before the surprise Wednesday alert and left employees there scrambling to communicate with customers nationwide over a holiday weekend.

For contractors in the San Diego area, Robell said that the Navy's decision likely will inconvenience vendors who also enter Marine Corps and Coast Guard facilities but "we're not sure exactly what's going to happen."

He questioned whether Navy bases were able to hire more employees to handle the influx of background checks and if the Pentagon will refund the fees customers already had paid to SureID to get the special access passes -- a problem he suspects Capitol Hill might have to solve. The Union-Tribune found no hearings scheduled in the House of Representatives or Senate on the issue.

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