The government plans to designate passports under the Identity Cards Act so that every adult applying for a British passport would need to register on the National Identity Register.
The five suppliers chosen are CSC, EDS, Fujitsu, IBM and Thales. They have been invited to sign framework contracts in early June. They will then be invited to take part in mini competitions for specific contracts. The suppliers were chosen after staff at the Identity and Passport Service had 750 separate meetings with the companies.
The suppliers were given scores and chosen on assessments of their capability, commercial strength and ability to work with each other and with the agency.
One of the three main contracts, worth about £500m over 10 years, will be for a replacement of the ageing passport system PASS supplied by Siemens. An upgrade of PASS last year - to Oracle 10g - destabilised the system temporarily. The incident made staff at the Identity and Passport Service realise that they cannot subject the PASS system to further major changes without risking disruption to internal operations.
A second contract worth about £500m over 10 years is for a new biometric database for ID cards. A third contract, which is worth a similar amount, will be for the production of ID Cards.
Executive Director of the Identity and Passport Service Bill Crothers told Computer Weekly that the decision to use multiple suppliers means that the risks of any failure of integration "firmly sits with us". He added: "There's no avoiding that." But he said that many steps have been taken to mitigate the risks - and he is comfortable about taking on the risk.
The IPS is strengthening the "client side" to help manage the suppliers by taking on about 100 new civil servants and hiring consultancies Deloitte, PA and Ernst and Young.
The Home Office says the enrolment of British citizens onto the ID Cards database will start from 2011/12.