The flap over the failed purchase of six U.S. ports by United Arab Emirates-owned Dubai Ports World has focused renewed attention on port security and has lawmakers wondering what ever happened to the much touted Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
The tamper-proof biometric card program, mandated by The Maritime Transportation and Security of Act of 2002, is several years behind schedule because of high personnel turnover at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), lack of presidential interest and bureaucratic sluggishness. Although initially anticipated in 2004, proposed rules are not likely to be published until later this year, with implementation in 2007 at the earliest.
“It is unacceptable that the Department [of Homeland Security] has allowed this program to be delayed this long,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. Speaking at hearings on transportation security, he added: “The TWIC card will be one of the primary means of keeping unauthorized personnel out of our ports.”
When the program is fully developed, cards may be given to as many as 12-million people, including truck drivers and others who service ports, airports, rail yards and other high security transportation facilities. It's not known how many truck drivers will receive this credential, but it could eventually be given to any driver who delivers to a secure facility. The card eventually may morph into a multi-purpose de facto ID card.
Those close to the card program say the TSA has allotted less than ten full-time people to the project, too few for such a large undertaking. Several transportation officials have also characterized it as “a program with a revolving door” because of the number of managers and staff who have left.
The program received no direct appropriations in President Bush's fiscal 2007 budget and none in 2006. Officials say privately that they hope to fund the program with fees collected in 2007. They expect to write funding levels of $20 million into the final rule. How much an individual card will cost drivers or their companies is not yet known, but it could be in the $100 range.
Although TSA has not yet officially proposed a specific type of card, the frontrunner appears to be a “smart card” with imbedded chips that capture fingerprint biometrics. The card was tested during a prototype phase that ended in June last year. “We tested other technologies [2 kinds of bar codes and magnetic strips] as a courtesy,” says Gordon Hannah, program manager for TWIC at contractor BearingPoint. Hannah says the company gave out about 17,000 prototype cards, of which 20 to 30% went to truck drivers.
“In our surveys, the card scored pretty well in the areas of convenience and ease of use,” he says. Readers were able to read the cards in two seconds, meeting TSA requirements. The card measured a driver's thumbprint against one listed digitally on the card. The data was then verified against the “terrorist watch list,” but any person could be denied access. These test cards will expire in September.
Most trucking officials favor such a card, but with conditions. “We have supported the TWIC concept from the beginning,” says Martin Rojas, ATA's executive director for safety & security operations, but his members want a system that offers drivers a single application process that satisfies all requirements.
He and others fear that the new TWIC will not be compatible with existing non-biometric systems like the FAST program.
Originally, the TWIC program was to be run by TSA. This has changed, due to budget constraints, cost overruns and a belief that TSA can't get the job done. Now, the plan is for local entities to run most of the program's operational aspects; TSA will set standards and maintain the watch lists.
For many in the industry, that change is fine. Florida, for example, has a state mandate for an ID card for its intermodal facilities, a system that's up and running. Other ports are not waiting for TSA either. Said one Florida port official: “We were happy to test TSA's cards [with our system], but if I waited for the feds to get a program going I'd be in violation of our state laws.”