Fiscal constraints are causing the Pentagon to more closely scrutinize programs and find ways to reduce costs, but biometric-related programs are an “enduring capability” that the senior leadership in the Pentagon is committed to, a Defense Department official said on Thursday.

However, the level and degree to which DoD leaders are committed to this capability is still to-be-determined, John Boyd, director, Defense Forensics and Biometrics  within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, said at a biometrics conference hosted by IDGA. DF-ST-87-06962

One joint effort in the biometrics space that is now off the table is the Joint Personnel Identification version 2, which was expected to replace existing tactical biometric collection devices used by the Army, Navy and Special Operations Command. The “initial cut” of the JPIv2, a mobile device that would have various configurations to collect different biometrics, “was just too expensive for DoD,” Boyd said.

Boyd said his office, SOCOM and elements within the Army are “looking at ways to dramatically reduce the costs for [tactical biometric] devices and meet warfighter needs.” He also said there are “groups” that are “looking to provide these capabilities at dramatically reduced costs.”

Boyd also pointed out that there never was an approved requirement for JPIv2.

Fiscal challenges as well as technical and other issues are also impacting an existing biometrics program, the authoritative database that DoD established to store, match and share biometric data collected in the field so that United States armed forces and to a degree their allies, can deny anonymity to terrorists and insurgents who can easily blend into the population.

An important requirement of warfighters is that when they used these devices, they also want to know what it means when they have a biometric match of a person they’ve just encountered. Boyd said there have been “funding concerns” and “upgrade challenges” associated with the Army’s efforts to increase the capability of the existing Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) from the 1.0 version to the 1.2 version.

The ABIS program and its “get well plan” has been briefed to multiple Assistant Secretaries of Defense in the past month and even Pentagon Acquisition Chief Frank Kendall late last year, Boyd said. These challenges are not only technical but also have to do with “documentation,” such as creating the right business rules for data sharing, he said.

“This is being pushed at the highest levels within OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) right now,” Boyd said.

The Army was expected to turn on its ABIS 1.2 version late last summer, but issues that arose in testing led to the “get well” plan. This month customer tests of the upgraded ABIS system are getting underway with additional tests planned in the coming months.

The Army is reviewing its plans longer-term for ABIS, which was supposed to undergo a more significant upgrade in a few years following a new competition for the system. However, no Request for Proposals is currently planned for that upgrade, which would be called Biometric Enabling Capability Increment 1. Instead, the Army will conduct an Analysis of Alternatives that will help inform the way forward on this effort.  Northrop Grumman [NOC] is currently the prime contractor for ABIS.

Boyd outlined three key priorities overall for the defense biometrics enterprise. One is continuing to build a “sustainable and enduring program,” he said, adding that it “is not adequately funded” at the moment. Collection devices and the “store, match, and analysis capabilities” top the list here, which are the primary capabilities to meet mission needs, he said.

Another priority is to redefine biometrics to adjust to the changed fiscal environment and update the DoD directive outlining roles and responsibilities around biometrics. Finally, continued investment in future capabilities is needed, Boyd said.