During a congressional hearing Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Coast Guard’s efforts to biometrically verify workers entering secure areas of vessels and maritime facilities at U.S. ports were routinely described as a failure.
“I cannot think of too many programs in government that have had more delays, more costs to the taxpayers, and more incidents of failing to perform,” Rep. John Mica (FL-R), the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program.
TWIC was created to implement a requirement of 2002’s Maritime Transportation Security Act, which required individuals needing unescorted access to certain secure areas of vessels and maritime facilities receive a biometric identification card. Ten years later, the full program has yet to be implemented even though TSA has been issuing TWIC cards to covered workers who passed a criminal background check since late 2007.
The primary glitch is that TSA has failed to deploy biometric card readers, thereby undermining the intended security benefits of the 2.1 million cards already in circulation. “The TWIC is currently being used as a flash pass where the individual simply shows the TWIC to the guard who visually checks the picture on the card against the individual seeking access,” said Joseph Lawless, director of maritime security for the Massachusetts Port Authority, testifying on behalf of the American Association of Port Authorities. “Without readers, there is no way to automatically check a ‘Hot List’ of revoked or suspended TWICs.”
Under the SAFE Port Act of 2006, the Secretary of Homeland Security was required to develop a TWIC reader pilot program and publish a final rule on reader deployment by April 2009. However, the pilot program was never completed and a final rule has never been issued. The Coast Guard is expected to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on reader deployment this fall. A final rule, however, won’t likely be published for another year.
A representative from TSA declined the committee’s invitation to appear before the committee. “TSA continues to ignore the committee,” Mica said, who then threatened to subpoena TSA testimony.