Lawmakers Question Future of Port Worker ID Card Program

By Sarah Sicard

After 11 years of the Department of Homeland Security trying to field a secure identity card for port workers, members of Congress are running out of patience. 

The Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) was intended to contain biometric information that could be verified by a scanner or reader at port entries. The readers would presumably be tied to a centralized database that could confirm a worker’s identity and a card’s validity. None of this has come close to being fielded.

“Millions of dollars previously allocated in future grant spending are predicated on the TWIC providing a tangible security benefit at the nation’s ports and maritime facilities,” Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on border and maritime security, said at a hearing. She quoted a Government Accountability Office report that stated, “Eleven years after initiation, DHS has not demonstrated how, if at all, TWIC will improve maritime security.”

The program began in 2002 as a provision of the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which sought to develop a secure biometric identification credential for those needing unescorted access to secure areas of regulated maritime facilities and vessels. The Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard jointly administer the program.

There have been several efforts to develop readers that would work under the harsh maritime conditions found at ports and on ships. None of these efforts have resulted in workable technologies.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., questioned whether the program has a future at all. “Do you think TWIC is dead?” he asked Coast Guard and TSA representatives.

“We are failing America in this process of making sure our port facilities are safe,” he added. TWIC is nothing more than a $130 flash pass that does little more than a normal ID card would, he said.

Steve Sadler, assistant administrator of the office of intelligence and analysis at TSA, said the program has cost roughly $394 million since its inception.

“I believe it does improve security,” Sadler said. However, he had little quantitative data from the pilot programs to support it.

Rear Adm. Joseph A. Servidio, assistant commandant for prevention policy with the Coast Guard, reassured the subcommittee that TWIC is not “dead.”

“We will be able to justify the technology as it matures,” added Servidio. “The systems are more robust now.”

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, asked whether it was worth spending up to $3 billion to continue. “Without data, how can I support giving another dime for this program?” he asked.

Several lawmakers had a litany of complaints passed on to them by constituents who must pay a $130 fee to obtain the card and enroll in the program.

“The Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration have formed a successful partnership in the joint management of the TWIC program and continue to work together to effectively build, manage and improve it,” said Servidio.

The maritime environment is challenging, said Sadler. The agencies plan to implement a pilot program in Alaska in 2014, which they expect will lead to improvements.

“Are we where we need to be? No sir, but I think we are moving in that direction,” said Servidio. “TWIC is one part of maritime security. It’s difficult to assess because it is just a subcomponent.” He added that there was great value in having the credential and asked lawmakers “not just to look at the past, but to look at the future.”

Photo Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Topics: Homeland Security, MaritimePort Security

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