Friday, April 13 , 2007 – Surprising no one in the federal government’s top accounting office, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program is unlikely to meet a deadline to issue biometric ID cards by July.
The TWIC program will require more than 750,000 port employees, longshoreman, mariners, truckers and others who require unescorted access to secure areas of ports to have background checks before being issued cards with their biometric data.
Kip Hawley, administrator for the Transportation Security Administration, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Thursday that his agency may miss a deadline to issue TWIC cards to workers at 10 U.S. seaports by July 1, according to a report by Congressional Quarterly.
The TWIC program has received more than $79 million in taxpayer money, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. A 2006 port security law includes a requirement that the TWIC program begin at 10 high-risk sea ports by July 1.
Norman Rabkin, managing director of the GAO, outlined his agency’s findings about TWIC before the committee Thursday.
The GAO’s report of TWIC in September 2006 reported challenges found during testing of TWIC technologies and “several problems” with contract oversight, Rabkin said.
Rabkin said TSA has made progress in adding staff to oversee TWIC enrollment and awarded a $70 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to enroll port workers.
TSA faces several challenges, however, Rabkin said, including moving from limited testing of the TWIC program to successfully rolling out the program to 770,000 workers “at 2,500 maritime facilities and 5,300 vessels.”
In addition, TSA needs to ensure that access control technologies will work effectively, balancing security with the flow of maritime commerce, according to the GAO’s report.
TSA has delayed enrolling port workers without providing specific reasons for the delay, Rabkin said, though port workers told the GAO that software problems could prevent enrollments from beginning until May.
“In addition, TSA and the Coast Guard have not set a date by which workers will be required to possess a TWIC card to access secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels,” Rabkin said.
Rabkin mentioned the importance of adding a workable security system for port workers. He said the GAO had been told by “transportation industry stakeholders” and the TSA that many workers travel into secure areas without being identified or going through a background check.
“Without a standard credential that is recognized across modes of transportation and facilities, many workers must obtain multiple credentials to access each transportation facility they enter,” Rabkin said, according to a GAO statement on the agency’s Web site.
The TWIC program has received more than $79 million in taxpayer money for TWIC, according to the GAO.
The TSA won’t sacrifice the program’s effectiveness for the sake of a timeline, said Hawley.
“The hard part about testing is that you just don’t know how long it’s going to take you,” Hawley said, according to Congressional Quarterly. “If it passes the first try, we’re out of here and ready to go. Because of the importance of this in the real world, we’re not going to move forward with it until that point.”
Rabkin said TSA must make TWIC work while meeting its own deadlines.
“As TSA works to implement the TWIC program and begin enrolling workers, it will be important that the agency establish clear and reasonable time frames and ensure that all aspects of the TWIC program, including the TWIC access control technologies, are fully tested in the maritime environment,” Rabkin said.
– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer