DHS Secretary says TWIC extension among 'available options'

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 2/15/2012

The federal government is inching closer to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential being more than a simple flash card, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a congressional committee Wednesday.

Truckers and other workers enrolled in the TWIC program may or may not receive an extension to the TWIC card’s five-year eligibility – a point of concern as the first TWIC enrollees will see their cards expire later this year.

TWIC, or the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, is a biometric-capable identity card that can be read by remote devices to check fingerprints, residency documents and other information.

Discussion on TWIC occurred during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2013 budget for the Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson, D-MS, ranking Democrat on the Committee, asked Napolitano when port workers could expect electronic card readers would begin being used.

Napolitano said DHS is close to issuing guidance on card readers – which would allow security to read specific TWIC card info remotely at ports or other warehouses that require TWIC.

“We are hearing from a lot of people that they are no more than just a flash card because there is no reader,” Thompson said. “I encourage you to look seriously, if the department does not meet the timeline for producing the readers, that the period be extended until the readers are in place.”

Napolitano made no promises, but said she had asked staff to present her with a set of options in order to deal with card reader delays – which is going on four years beyond original card reader readiness estimates.

“Where has the breakdown been for the past four years?” Thompson asked.

“It’s hard to say where – there have been a lot of operational issues as to the card readers concerning their viability and their ruggedness,” Napolitano said. “There have been things tested that haven’t played out, so it’s been a real process to get to where we have good guidance.”

Thompson asked Napolitano to also examine dropping the requirement that TWIC applicants make two trips to enroll and later pick up their TWIC card.

“That second trip for a lot of individuals costs a lot of money,” Thompson said. “Some people have to take off a day’s work to pick up the card.”

“We’re looking at all available options,” Napolitano replied.

The Homeland Security budget for 2013 would be $39.3 billion – $191 million below the budget approved for 2012.

More than 1.9 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 later this year.

The Transportation Security Administration recently announced TWIC enrollment will drop from $132.50 to $129.75 March 19.

The price decrease was announced after the Federal Bureau of Investigation implemented a fee reduction for its fingerprint-based criminal history records information check. TWIC applicants undergo background checks that include a search of the FBI’s fingerprint-based criminal history records check.

Applicants and TWIC cardholders who obtained their TWIC before March 19 will not receive a $2.75 refund, TSA said.

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