Senators blast TWIC costs, enrollment problems for truckers

| 5/10/2011

For almost five years, truckers have said the Transportation Worker Identification Credential was burdensome, inefficient and added virtually zero security to American ports and warehouses.

On Tuesday, it was the U.S. Senate’s turn.

TWIC was slammed by nearly every member present during Tuesday’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, titled “Are our nation’s ports secure? Examining the Transportation Worker ID credentialing program.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, who chaired the hearing, said it appeared TWIC has “something really amiss in its basic structure.”

“The questions that have arisen here are obviously just a small portion of the questions that exist,” Lautenberg said. “We kind of feel like we’re looking at a Rubik’s Cube here. We don’t know where to start.”

Several of the senators appeared frustrated with TWIC’s lack of progress, nearly 10 years after the idea of a secure ID card was recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which is also known as the 9/11 Commission.

“It’s unacceptable that we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a program that might be making our ports less safe,” Lautenberg said.

TSA has spent $420 million on TWIC, and the federal government and private sector may spend as much as $3.2 billion on TWIC during the next 10 years, not including the card readers themselves.

More than 1.8 million U.S. workers have enrolled in TWIC. The program was created after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The first TWIC enrollments began in 2007 and will start expiring in 2012.

Several senators questioned the burdens many truckers faced when being required to drive hundreds of miles, twice, to enroll and pick up their TWIC card.

“I think it’s cumbersome and bureaucratic,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-ME, said. “There has to be a better way.”

The hearing coincided with the release of a study by the Government Accountability Office that showed numerous weaknesses within the TWIC card issuance process and at facilities in which TWIC is required.

Among numerous damaging findings, GAO used covert investigators to prove that unqualified individuals could illegally obtain a TWIC card that would give them access to secure facilities that even documented Americans would not have.

“All this money, and what we have right now is less secure than a driver’s license. … The fact that we have this card means nothing – or very little,” Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, said. “To me it makes us less secure than ever.”

“DHS has not demonstrated that TWIC, as currently implemented and planned, is more effective than prior approaches used to limit access to ports and facilities,” the GAO report reads.

TSA Administrator John Pistole said he agreed with the GAO’s conclusions, and has asked GAO to perform a cost benefit analysis of TWIC. Pistole appeared to hint that the program could be replaced.

He agreed with GAO’s findings that “it’s difficult to do a one-size-fits-all approach on a biometric security card,” Pistole said.

Pistole confirmed that an unspecified number of individuals on TSA’s terrorist watch list had applied for TWIC cards.

All were denied, he said.

“Are we safer?” Pistole said. “Yes we are, but at what cost? That’s why we’ve asked GAO to follow up with us.”