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Senate OKs millions for biometric center

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate approved more than $13 million in funding for the local Biometric Fusion Center Thursday, according to Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office.

About $1.4 million is allocated for planning and design of a permanent center that is expected to be constructed inside the FBI's 1,000-acre complex in Clarksburg beginning in 2006. That funding is part of a military construction bill now headed to a conference committee of Senate and House of Representatives members to work out differences between the two chambers' bills.

In a separate piece of legislation, more than $24.3 million of biometric security funding was included in the defense appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year.

The Department of Defense estimates about half of that will come to the local center, which it already is operating in a temporary facility at Harrison-Marion Re-gional Airport. A larger site in downtown Clarksburg is expected to be completed in August.

"I am very excited about the future possibilities for this facility and for the private industry investments that can follow this development," said Byrd, D-W.Va., in a Friday release announcing the appropriations.

The permanent center is estimated to cost $26.6 million and is expected to employ up to 150 workers, Byrd's office has said.

Already, area high-technology firms have shared in $20 million of defense contract money associated with the center.

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.

As part of the report accompanying the legislation, Byrd also urged the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to coordinate their biometrics efforts.

"The Department of Homeland Security has been looking at various uses of biometric technologies, including the possible installation of biometric signatures in a system to track the entry and exit of foreign visitors in the United States," Byrd said of a need for groundwork that may have already been laid by locally done defense work.

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