Eleven months after the Transportation Worker Identification Credential became mandatory for all port-related workers, ports still lack the electronic equipment to read the card’s biometric data.
Under the timetable Congress set out in the SAFE Port Act of 2006, the Transportation Security Administration was to complete a pilot test of the readers in April 2007, followed by a Coast Guard final rule setting out reader standards in April 2009. Now the TSA says pilot testing should be completed by the end of this year, with a final rule due in April 2011.
But, surprisingly, there is no cry of alarm from Capitol Hill. TWIC was a program lawmakers loved to hate. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 called for a universal identification card embedded with biometric data. In the years that followed, Congress grew weary of a seemingly endless number of false starts and delays. Oversight committees routinely summoned TSA and Coast Guard officials to explain why the program had gone off the track.
Cmdr. David Murk, chief of cargo and facilities for the Coast Guard, said the two agencies have worked hard to keep congressional staff and the industry informed of every turn in the TWIC reader’s twisting path. “We’ve been briefing Congress along the way. We’ve been trying to keep everybody apprised of progress with the pilot and the rule, and why things have been delayed,” he said.
The agency is confident it will get the data it needs to issue a final report and regulation governing TWIC readers. “We’re comfortable that we’re moving forward with a timeline to get the data that we need and publish a final report,” Murk said.
But the pressure to meet definitive deadlines has faded. “I think Congress has finally given up on getting TSA and the Coast Guard to meet any semblance of a schedule. There’s no pressure any longer to meet deadlines, milestones or anything else,” said Bethann Rooney, manager of security for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “Now, they’re just looking for positive results.” The port’s own TWIC reader pilot begins this week.
When the TSA started issuing TWIC cards in October 2007, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. But even as port workers began lining up, the TSA was only beginning to work on the second part of the system. An industry advisory committee called for a “touchless” device that would read the card’s biometrics without it being swiped, and give the cardholder access within a fraction of a second.
Everyone agreed the TSA needed a pilot program to prove the technology would hold up to the typical conditions of weather and wear and tear they would get at a port. The ports of Houston and Brownsville, Texas, have reader tests under way, as do some passenger vessel operators. But Murk said the total number of devices is relatively small. Most of the data will come when New York-New Jersey and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach begin pilot testing. George Cummings, director of homeland security at the port of Los Angeles, said its pilot test at three terminals would start in the next couple of months.
“We’re concerned with getting it right, but making sure we have a successful pilot program is much more complex than we ever envisioned it would be,” Rooney said. Bugs ranging from faulty equipment to faulty vendors had delayed the port’s program.
Rooney said vendors were required to certify equipment would be compatible with the port’s existing access control system. “None of them were certified until after we issued the contract,” she said. “We had one reader manufacturer that had to recall all of their devices. We had another reader that was installed, and during the first rainstorm, it fried.”
The Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center is collecting TWIC data under contract with the TSA. Rooney said the center will tell the TSA how quickly the system processes TWICs. It won’t report equipment failures or contractor disagreements, so the port is collecting its own incident file for the TSA.
Oddly enough, the TWIC card reader system is unlikely to be ready for full-scale deployment before the first TWICs reach their five-year expiration dates. Cardholders complained about the $132 fee they had to pay for the card, but the TSA said they won’t get a break on the renewal just because a facility doesn’t have the equipment to read them.
That doesn’t diminish the value of the card. For one thing, Murk said the Coast Guard would soon use handheld TWIC readers as part of regular security inspections at facilities regulated by the port security law.
Since having a TWIC became mandatory in April 2009, the cards are standard ID at Los Angeles, Cummings said. “When the card is implemented as an electronic read, it will add efficiency and provide some extra measures of security. It will be a good tool to have when it’s deemed necessary.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at email@example.com.