Fort Lee, Virginia adopts RAPIDGate for fast civilian access

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The U.S. Army installation at Fort Lee in Virginia will begin using a program called RAPIDGate that will replace passes issued to non-military persons who regularly require access to the facility. The program will take effect July 10, when the practice of issuing 90-day passes to people who present a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance for the vehicle used for access ends. Those passes will be grandfathered out as they expire.

The RAPIDGate program for fast entry into Fort Lee replaces what was once access privileges performed by the installation itself, which came free of cost. The new outsourced program administered by Portland, Oregon-based Eid Passport, Inc. enhances security to the installation by performing background checks. Their service comes at a price. The screening process makes a ten-year felony background check, performs a check against terrorist and sexual offender watch lists, and does a social security cross reference to validate a person’s identity.

Qualified applicants are issued a pass that enables them to bypass inspection pits and use any of the facility’s seven gates for access. Businesses whose employees would benefit by this are required to contact the program provider and have "point of contact" persons who can validate an applicant's employment. Enrollment in the program costs the business US$199. A pass for each employee of the business costs $159 annually. The pass for employees expires after a year, when a new background check is required by the program.

The program is a voluntary alternative for civilians to conform with new access policies mandated by the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army, according to an information pamphlet distributed by the base. A kiosk will be set up at Fort Lee to accept applications that process a photograph, social security number, and fingerprint.

Pamphlet distributed at Fort Lee explains the program. Click here for the inside content.

Those without a RAPIDGate pass will need to enter the fort at locations where their vehicle can be inspected. A rigorous inspection involves armed guards asking the driver to place keys on the dash board, pop the hood and the trunk, open the glove box, and have all occupants exit the vehicle and open all doors, including the hood and trunk. While the vehicle is inspected inside, another guard uses a mirror attached to a wand to inspect under the chassis of the vehicle's undercarriage.

Eid Passport, Inc. specializes in identity authentication and background screening. Fort Lee will be the 12th military installation out of an estimated 250 military installations on U.S soil to implement identity screening as part of new policies mandated by the Department of Defense (DoD).

"The pass contains no personal information," said David Smith, the director of marketing for Eid Passport. It does contain a barcode which is scanned at entry. The RAPIDGate program database includes a biometric fingerprint that might be checked by the scanning device against the presenter of the pass in times of elevated security. The pass is also embedded with an active RFID transmitter. The pass is scanned on entry to the fort at the gate check point, but not upon exit. If the RFID transmitter works properly, movement into and out of the base will be recorded.

The Fort Lee pamphlet mentions a "a new mandate" by the DoD. That mention appears to be in reference to portion of the language found in an Instruction issued in October last year by the DoD that states, "Implement a verification process, whether through background checks or other similar processes, that enables the U.S. Government to attest to the trustworthiness of DoD contractors and sub-contractors."

The Instruction stems from a Directive signed by President Bush in August of 2004. That Directive, from the Department of Homeland Security, says in part, "Wide variations in the quality and security of forms of identification used to gain access to secure Federal and other facilities where there is potential for terrorist attacks need to be eliminated."

Fort Lewis in Washington state was the first U.S. military installation to adopt the RAPIDGate program as a test in 2004. Since then, Fort Sam Houston, Fort Carson, and Fort Bragg, among other installations have adopted the program.

"What happened at Fort Dix, [New Jersey], as we look at it, is a Fort Dix issue," Laura Arenschield reported spokesman for the 18th Airborne, Tom McCollum, as saying in June. "That should not be taken as an invitation for someone to try it here at Fort Bragg, but (security) is a living, breathing entity. You have to constantly change it just to keep those who are trying to penetrate it on their toes." The new security measures will go into effect at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which is among the largest of domestic military bases, starting July 8.