By Tom Precious
NEWS ALBANY BUREAU
ALBANY – The Cuomo administration, not pleased about the criticism it has been receiving over a new drivers license contract award, dismissed concerns by two Western New York senators Thursday and suggested the lawmakers’ efforts could compromise security efforts against terrorism.
The unusually harsh rebuke of Senators Mark Grisanti and Timothy Kennedy, both from Buffalo, came from Howard Glaser, who is the governor’s director of state operations. The two senators have been among those criticizing the contract to design a new drivers license as both flawed and a waste of state money.
Grisanti and Kennedy have criticized the state Department of Motor Vehicles for awarding a new $88 million contract to a Canadian company for a new drivers license design that came costing in more than twice as much as the second-place finisher in the bidding.
On Thursday, Grisanti fired off a criticism of the contract that he said “makes absolutely no sense’’ on a number of fronts, including that it is far more costly than the current contract, changes the licenses to black and white instead of color and that the new designs might not be compatible with federal and Canadian border-crossing laws permitting so-called “enhanced’’ licenses used to cross the border without a passport.
The growing criticism on Thursday included concerns by a convenience store trade group that the new licenses will be make it harder to block sales of alcohol and cigarettes to underage buyers – was met with an angry retort by the Cuomo administration.
“Apparently Senators Grisanti and Kennedy would rather have the low bidders – all from out of state – produce a license that can easily be altered by a terrorist, ID thief or for that matter any 18-year-old with an X-Acto knife who wants to go to a bar,’’ Glaser said in a written statement provided to The Buffalo News. “The selected bid is a solid polycarbonate card impervious to alteration and it costs a little more per card. The senators should get their facts right, and decide whether they really want to sacrifice New Yorkers’ security to the lowest bidder.’’
The dust-up comes on a proposed contract not yet approved by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
In an interview, Grisanti said he told Glaser that he believes such contracts should have more opportunities for New York companies to try to win through competitive bidding. The existing contract is held by a British firm. But the senator, a Republican, raised concerns about the bidding process for the new cards. “If other bidders did not know about certain specifications and could have offered a lower bid, we need every penny we can for Hurricane Sandy relief,’’ Grisanti said; he said he sent that message in an email to Glaser.
As for the sharp rebuke by Glaser, Grisanti said, “I think everything’s fine.’’
The administration awarded the contract to CBN Secure Technologies of Canada for $88.5 million, which was $38 million more than the second-highest bidder.
The losing bidders are challenging the contract award, and critics have questioned why the state would move to a drivers license where even a person’s hair color could not be identified in the license photograph.