One card united

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) program to have everyone, including truck drivers, who enters a port facility unescorted carry a government-issued biometric credential has many in the industry perplexed, bemused and annoyed. They're not saying that the Transportation Worker Identification Credential or TWIC program is a bad idea, but they're wondering if it could be made simpler,

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) program to have everyone, including truck drivers, who enters a port facility unescorted carry a government-issued biometric credential has many in the industry perplexed, bemused and annoyed.

They're not saying that the Transportation Worker Identification Credential or TWIC program is a bad idea, but they're wondering if it could be made simpler, more relevant, less expensive and more commonsensical. More than anything else, they want the card to be what TSA had originally envisioned: the only ID card that a truck driver would ever need.

In testimony before the Transportation Research Board in January 2003, Admiral James M. Loy, Under Secretary of Transportation for Security at TSA, said that TWIC was envisioned to encompass all IDs needed by a driver. “The idea is to have these [transportation] employees undergo only one standard criminal background investigation �� I've heard that there are some truck drivers currently carrying up to 23 ID cards around their necks,” he said. “I wouldn't want to pay that chiropractor bill. Under the TWIC program, drivers and other transportation workers will only have one card to deal with which would be acceptable across the United States.”

So far, the program is not going as well as expected. Its implementation is several years behind schedule and more than twice the original budget. Indeed, some of TSA's difficulties may stem from the sheer size of the program. “TWIC is the largest biometric smart card program of its kind in the world,” Maurine Fanguy, TWIC program director, said before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in January. However, the program is also wrought with lack of oversight and poor coordination, according to the General Accounting Office, which has been monitoring the TWIC program since shortly after its inception. Although progress has been made, GAO officials report that TSA has regularly missed its target goals of implementing cards, card readers and applicant registrations.

Members of the trucking community are frustrated at what seems like commonsense challenges and problems. For example, Craig Talbott, vp-safety of the Maryland Motor Truck Assn., asks: “If a driver already has a hazmat endorsement (HME), why does he have to go through another similar background check” (HME holders do not go through an additional ‘security threat assessment,’ but must still submit biographic and other documents). Adds John Esparza, president of the Texas Motor Transportation Assn.: “The main complaint I'm hearing from my members is availability. There's no place to register around the corner.”

Others are harsher in their assessment of the program, especially after TSA grossly underestimated the number of eligible TWIC recipients. According to TSA's original estimates, about 750,000 workers nationwide were expected to need the card. In January, the agency upped the estimate to 1.5 million, a 100% difference.

This blatant miscalculation has caused some to lose confidence in TSA's ability to roll out and run the program. “I don't think this is going as smooth as TSA had hoped it would go. The Feds should admit that it's not going according to plan,” notes Mike Mitre, president of the International Longshore Workers Union, Local 13, which represents more than 20,000 dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

TSA officials have not adequately explained how they could have been so far off in their calculations, but in response, they have extended the deadline from September 25 to April 15, 2009, for all port and maritime workers and those who enter these facilities unescorted to receive a card. TSA's original plan also called for TWICs for those entering rail terminals and airports, but they have decided to focus on maritime only during this initial rollout. It is not known how many truck drivers who serve these other intermodal facilities will need a TWIC.


When Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, one of the provisions called for secure credentials for unescorted people entering a port by land or water. The law called for security plans to be in place by July 1, 2004. To facilitate access control, Congress ordered the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue a biometric identification card. About a year before the Maritime Act was passed, however, the Dept. of Transportation had already been working on a biometric ID card partly in response to provisions in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act and the USA Patriot Act that dealt with access control to transportation facilities.

TSA, which was then part of DOT, was developing a universal transportation worker ID card that could be used by any worker in the transportation industry, including truck drivers, airport workers and railroad employees. The plan was for the card to be used for physical access to facilities in addition to access to computer and telecommunications networks as a way to deter unauthorized users and hackers.

The law did not mandate what biometric had to be employed, but early TSA work determined that a photo ID and a fingerprint would be the most cost-effective, practical and least intrusive.

The idea was simple: a worker would insert the card into a card reader, and his fingerprint algorithm would be compared to his fingerprint data on file in a database within seconds. If the fingerprints jibed, access would be granted. It's a system that has been used by high-security government agencies and private industry for many years. Why DHS cannot mimic these systems is perplexing.

In 2003, TSA said that it would test a prototype card and reader and issue the first cards by August 2004. In March 2003, however, TSA became part of DHS along with 21 other agencies, including the Coast Guard, Secret Service, The Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The TWIC program became mired in bureaucracy and in-fighting as DHS was fraught with waste, including billions illegally spent by other DHS workers on personal items and the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Instead of building on the TWIC work done by the pre-DHS TSA, DHS officials decided to revamp the program and look at alternatives and additional criteria.

In September 2006, the General Accounting Office chided TSA for not overseeing contractors involved in the program. The report noted: “Specifically, TSA made a number of changes to contract requirements after the contract was awarded, contributing to a doubling of contract costs, and TSA did not ensure that all key components of the program were tested. TSA has acknowledged that problems with contractor oversight occurred because the agency did not have sufficient personnel to monitor contractor performance. TSA has taken some actions to address this problem.”


According to TSA, port and vessel owners and operators are required to inform employees of their responsibility to possess a TWIC and which parts of their facility will require a TWIC for unescorted access. Truck carriers are also encouraged but not required to provide this information to their drivers although most have already done so, according to industry officials.

In order to obtain a TWIC, a driver must be a U.S. citizen or have a ‘lawful presence’ in the country in accordance with immigration laws. A driver must not have any connection to terrorist activity, diminished mental capacity or be convicted of certain crimes, including improper transportation of a hazardous material, unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase of an explosive, and certain racketeering crimes.

When the criteria were first announced, several stevedore unions complained that their members would be barred from receiving TWICs based on their past activities. TSA officials say that their main concern is combating terrorism and that some convicted felons who have served time for their crimes might be eligible to receive a TWIC through a waiver process. In some cases, those barred from receiving a TWIC still may enter a facility with an escort.


The enrollment process consists of several parts: an optional pre-enrollment, in-person enrollment, security threat assessment, and notification of the results and issuance of the TWIC to the applicant. Applicants may pre-enroll online to enter all of the biographic information required for the threat assessment and make an appointment at the enrollment center to complete the process. Appointments are not required. Then, applicants must visit the enrollment center where they will pay the enrollment fee, complete an Application Disclosure Form, provide biographic information and a complete set of fingerprints, and sit for a digital photograph. The applicant must also bring specific identity verification documents.

One of the main complaints from drivers is that there are not enough enrollment centers nearby and that they lose too much time from work to complete the process. On the other hand, some drivers are often experiencing a speedy process. “It's quick in Baltimore,” says Talbott. “Maybe 30 minutes.”

So far, 104 ports have begun enrollment. Ultimately, TSA will establish fixed enrollment centers at 147 ports nationwide and will deploy mobile enrollment centers to dozens of other locations as they are needed.

TSA officials have designated operators of facilities located within Captain of the Port Zones Boston, Northern New England, and Southeastern New England to comply with TWIC requirements by October 15. According to TSA, these ports were chosen for early compliance based upon geographic proximity, the small size of their TWIC enrollment population, and robust enrollment efforts.


When TWIC was first discussed, drivers, especially those who already had a hazardous material endorsement, expressed concern over the cost. They felt they were paying twice for the same background checks. The fee for a TWIC card is $132.50 and it is valid for five years. Those who hold a valid hazardous material endorsement issued after May 31, 2005, or a Free And Secure Trade (FAST) card, pay a reduced fee of $105.25. Those applicants choosing to pay the reduced fee must present the HME or FAST card at the time of enrollment. If the reduced fee is paid, the TWIC expiration date will be five years from the date of the supporting HME or FAST card.


According to TSA, TWIC is a so-called “smart card” with a small integrated circuit chip embedded in the card containing the following technologies:

  • Dual Interface Integrated Circuit Chips (ICC) — a small computer chip that can be read by either inserting the card in a slot in a “contact” card reader, or holding the card within 10 centimeters of a “contactless” card reader.

  • Magnetic Stripe — commonly found on the back of credit cards and read by “swiping” the card through a magnetic stripe card reader.

  • Linear Bar Code — commonly used to quickly identify items by scanning the codes with an optical reader like those found at grocery checkout aisles.


As of mid-May, TSA has issued almost 94,000 TWICs, but no card readers have been installed to read them on a working basis. Until readers are installed, workers with TWICs will have them visually inspected by port security personnel for entry. According to Coast Guard officials, readers are still in prototype, and it's unknown when they will be installed at all ports and marine terminals. Jim Santangelo, Teamsters' Western vp, says that it appears that TSA has launched the TWIC program too soon. “They're telling people to get the card but they don't have readers to monitor compliance, which was the original plan.” He adds that checking drivers is only one small part of port security, and what's really needed are detectors that can sense bombs and other destructive devices likely to be used by terrorists.


The American Trucking Assns. has been frustrated by the program, according to a February letter from Martin Rojas, executive director of safety, security & operations, to TSA. Rojas also expressed concern that the number of drivers who qualify for TWIC will not be enough to fill the needs of carriers.

Although it's not certain how many truck drivers will qualify, early reports from East and West Coast ports suggest that many current employees (mainly dock workers) may be barred with the greatest unknown number residing within the trucking community.

For details about TWIC, go to

Permanent Disqualifying Criminal Offenses for a TWIC
  1. Espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage

  2. Sedition or conspiracy to commit sedition

  3. Treason or conspiracy to commit treason

  4. A federal crime of terrorism [18 U.S.C. 2332(g)] or comparable State law

  5. A crime involving a TSI (transportation security incident). Note: A transportation security incident is a security incident resulting in a significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, or economic disruption in a particular area. The term “economic disruption” does not include a work stoppage or other employee-related action not related to terrorism and resulting from an employer-employee dispute.

  6. Improper transportation of a hazardous material under 49 U.S.C. 5124 or a comparable state law

  7. Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase…or dealing in an explosive or explosive device

  8. Murder

  9. Threat or maliciously conveying false information knowing the same to be false, concerning the deliverance, placement, or detonation of an explosive or other lethal device in or against a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportations system, or an infrastructure facility

  10. Certain RICO (Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act violations where one of the predicate acts consists of one of the permanently disqualifying crimes

  11. Attempt to commit the crimes in items (a)(1)-(a)(4)

  12. Conspiracy or attempt to commit the crimes in items (a)(5)-(a)(10)

Note: Convictions for (a)(1)-(4) are not eligible for a waiver; convictions for (a)(5)-(12) may be eligible for a waiver if the applicant is initially disqualified

Source: TSA

Approved Identity Verification Documents

TWIC applicants are required to provide identity documents to TSA to complete the enrollment process. There are two lists of identity verification documents (listed below), and applicants are required to furnish either one identity document from List A or two documents from List B, with one of the two being a government-issued photo ID.

List A:

  • Unexpired U.S. passport

  • Unexpired permanent resident card

  • Unexpired alien registration receipt card with photograph

  • Unexpired foreign passport

  • Unexpired FAST card

  • Unexpired MMD (Merchant Mariner Document)

List B (need two and one must be a government-issued photo ID):

  • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (N-560, 561)

  • U.S. Certificate of Naturalization (N-550 or 570)

  • Driver's license issued by a state or outlying possession of the United States

  • ID card issued by a state or outlying possession of the United States

  • Must include a state or state agency seal or logo (such as state port authority ID or state university ID).

  • Original or certified copy of birth certificate issued by a state, county, municipal authority, or outlying possession of the United States bearing an official seal

  • Voter's registration card

  • U.S. military ID card or U.S. retired military ID

  • U.S. military dependent's card

  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad

  • Expired U.S. passport

  • Native American tribal document

  • U.S. Social Security card

  • U.S. Citizen card I-197

  • U.S. Military discharge papers DD-214

  • Dept. of Transportation (DOT) medical card

  • Civil marriage certificate

  • MML (Merchant Mariner License) bearing an official raised seal, or a certified copy

For a complete list of enrollment centers, listed by state, visit

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