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Biometrics boost

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- The U.S. Department of Defense will build its identification-technology testing facility inside the FBI's 1,000-acre complex in Clarksburg. Construction is expected to start in 2006.

The $26.6 million Biometric Fusion Center is expected to employ up to 175 workers and boost the state's economy by as much as $20 million per year, according to an announcement made by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., on Thursday.

"This is outstanding news for West Virginia," Byrd said. "It means new jobs for the area, new industry for the state and new security for the country."

Tom Gavin, Byrd's spokesman, said most of the jobs will precede construction of the 101,000-square-foot center and should be filled by late 2003. A temporary center operating at Harrison-Marion Regional Airport since late 2000 already employs 40.

Byrd's office said the Department of Defense is expected to include construction funds in budgets for the next three fiscal years. In the meantime, the temporary center will lease additional space either at the airport or other nearby locations.

"They are really starting to butt up against what they need to do and what they have room to do," Gavin said of the temporary site.

The U.S. Army-administered center tests high-end commercial identification software for military applications, such as biometric "smart cards" that could be used to limit access to defense networks and facilities. Biometrics is the science of using bodily characteristics such as fingerprints or iris patterns for identification purposes.

Lt. General Peter M. Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer, said the center will be a critical security resource for years to come.

Byrd and U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., who met with Cuviello and FBI leadership just prior to the announcement, said the site also will bring a boost to the growing biometric presence along I-79.

That includes the FBI center, which is the largest biometrics repository in the world, and a prominent biometrics and forensic identification program at West Virginia University. Both were key factors in the Clarksburg site being chosen over nine others, according to the announcement.

"This center will be a potent addition to our region's high-tech sector, opening the door to further opportunities for our businesses, non-profit organizations and academic institutions," Mollohan said Thursday. "We are eager to expand our role in meeting our country's security needs."

Already, nearly $20 million of defense funding has made its way to five North Central companies and a division of West Virginia University. They are charged with providing management for the temporary Biometric Fusion Center and may work with the permanent center.

Byrd has been involved with the lead up to the center since 1998, when the Department of Defense approached him with concerns that terrorist organizations and rogue nations were attempting to break into the Pentagon's electronic networks. Byrd has since included $92 million in appropriations bills to test biometrics identification systems and to develop a prototype security network for the Defense Department.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.