GAO: Port truckers could face security slowdowns

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) faces a significant challenge in ensuring that the anti-terrorism benefits of a program requiring port workers to be issued federal biometric ID cards outweigh economic disruptions

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) faces a significant challenge in ensuring that the anti-terrorism benefits of a program requiring port workers to be issued federal biometric ID cards outweigh economic disruptions caused by the program itself, according to U.S. Congress Government Accountability Office (GAO).

TSA has finalized a rule for its Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program that requires that 750,000 port workers, including 110,000 truck drivers, be enrolled, screened and issued TWIC cards by the end of 2006. At a later date, TSA will issue a rule for biometric card readers and other so-called “access control technologies” to be rolled out at 3,500 maritime facilities.

A GAO report published late September said problems verifying fingerprints of truck drivers with biometric card readers could create a long queue delaying other trucks waiting in line trying to enter the port. A testing contractor’s report said TWIC card readers rejected verification during 4.8% of total access attempts. The contractor didn’t specify how many of those rejections were legitimate vs. false. The contractor blamed “rougher fingerprints” as part of the reason for the rejects. Neither the contractor nor TSA had a solution for this issue, GAO said.

GAO said TSA’s information that the card readers operated effectively—particularly when used outdoors—was “limited.”

“Most testing facilities lacked the technology to connect with TSA’s national TWIC database to obtain current information on those workers already issued TWIC cards who have subsequently been identified as a potential threat to security or whose cards have been lost or stolen,” stated GAO.

TSA said it will issue a separate rule on the rollout of access control technologies, giving it more time to address industry concerns. However, TSA does not plan on conducting additional tests to ensure the technologies work effectively before implementing the program, GAO said.

Not only did the “access control technology” component of TWIC lack sufficient testing, GAO reported that TSA fell far short of its goal to enroll 75,000 workers to test the program—instead it signed up only 1,700 workers. The testing effort was hamstrung by lack of industry volunteers and technical difficulties in obtaining workers’ fingerprints to conduct background checks.

Though TSA said it has taken additional steps to more efficiently enroll workers, the agency’s failure to enroll enough 75,000 workers for testing purposes raises questions as to whether the agency will successfully enroll and issue cards to 750,000 before 2007. TSA said that it is rolling out a faster and more efficient process for enrollment and the issuing of TWIC cards.

TSA said it lacked sufficient personnel to meet its original goals to oversee its contractors and instead relied on the contractor to oversee its own work and that of its subcontractors. However, the agency also said it established a new office to oversee financials and contactor performance. TSA also hired more staff to bolster technology and systems integration, deployment and program management.

To view the GAO report, go to http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06982.pdf

For additional coverage on port security, read Illegal immigrant truckers facing federal crackdown

To comment on this article, write to Terrence Nguyen at [email protected]
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