TSA receives another congressional tongue-lashing over TWIC

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 3/27/2012

Is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential as strong and secure as a state driver’s license, and if not – should the program continue?

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Transportation Committee examined TSA’s TWIC program during a joint hearing Monday.

TWIC, which has enrolled 2.1 million truck drivers, longshoreman and other port workers, is a biometric-capable identity card that can be read by remote devices to check fingerprints, residency documents and other information.

Because the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t identified requirements for TWIC card-readers, the program has remained mostly a “flash-card” system since it began enrollment in 2007.

A card-reader final rule may be presented later this year, in which case TWIC administrators say could lead to card-readers being deployed to most ports two years after the rule’s presentation.

“We must finally implement the card-readers so these cards are not just expensive flash passes,” U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, said Monday.

Truckers and other TWIC enrollees haven’t paid flash-card prices. Instead, TWIC enrollees have paid $132.50 each for TWIC and its biometric capabilities – and $280 million in total fees.

The federal government has spent about $100 million in additional funds on the cards.

In 2011, a report of the Government Accountability Office showed investigators were able to access secure port areas with fake TWIC cards. Other investigators obtained actual TWIC cards illegally. The GAO also found that Homeland Security has no way to remove TWIC access for cardholders who commit felonies after they obtain a TWIC.

Last year’s GAO report on TWIC suggested that TSA examine whether TWIC “would enhance the posture of security beyond efforts already in place given costs and program risks.”

TSA officials said Monday the examination of TWIC’s viability continues.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, said TSA provides valuable service, but he asked, “Are we getting value for our money?

“With TWIC, I have seen this failure myself,” Issa said. “I have seen a mandated bio ID simply waved. Showing a picture ID is not in fact what Congress mandated.”

Rep. John Mica, R-FL, agreed.

“Some of the equipment that’s been purchased does not do the job,” Mica said. “The deployment and acquisition of expensive equipment that is supposed to protect us wasn’t properly tested and vetted. It could probably have been done better by a high school project.”

After lowering the price earlier this year, TWIC now costs enrollees $129.75 – though that doesn’t include lost work and travel time. OOIDA has supported efforts to reduce the two trips to enrollment centers TWIC currently requires.

“We think TWIC is a secure credential,” said Stephen Sadler, TSA assistant administrator for intelligence and analysis. “Prior to TWIC, you could go onto a port and have access with multiple credentials…We did the best we could to make that card secure, even though card-readers aren’t in place yet.”

TWIC wasn’t the only trucking-related topic examined by committee members Monday.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, questioned TSA’s VIPR program – which stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response.

In late 2011, Tennessee reportedly became the first state to implement an extensive VIPR program. Under VIPR, TSA, state highway patrol and other law enforcement officers can spent hours at a time searching trucks and trailers and questioning truck drivers in an effort to prevent terrorism.

“Based on what you’ve seen from VIPR teams and their ability to prevent specific threats, have VIPR teams ever pulled over cars, vans or SUVs?” Blackbrun asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” said Chris McLaughlin, TSA assistant administrator for security operations.

“I’d love to know,” Blackburn said, “because to my knowledge there is no terrorist that has ever driven a semi truck.”

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