Tom Adamski is a trucking executive with 34 drivers carrying 101 pieces of identification allowing them to shuttle containers in and out of terminals at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Each company driver has a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, the basic security pass for drivers, longshoremen and others who work inside port gates. All but one has an endorsement to their commercial driver’s license that says they’re approved for moving hazardous materials. Each also has a SeaLink card, the port’s own driver ID card.
Each card required a separate application and background check, meaning his employees get more scrutiny than airline passengers arriving from foreign countries, said Adamski, the New York agent for Jacksonville, Fla.-based First Coast Logistics. “You talk about duplicative and repetitive,” he said. “The only thing they haven’t got is their birth certificate recorded by three different people.”
The costly redundancies in the government’s credentialing system have the attention of Congress and the Transportation Security Administration. The system evolved from the threats officials saw to ports and transportation after the September 11 terror attacks. Nearly a decade later, some lawmakers are looking for ways to streamline the process.
“It’s silly to have different application processes, different background checks for the same person to have different IDs,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security.
TSA Administrator John Pistole this month told Rogers’ committee the program isn’t living up to his expectations, even with nearly 2 million TWICs issued. “I’m focused on that and want to make some improvements both to timing and rollout. It’s taking too long, frankly,” Pistole told the committee.
Beyond TWIC, the fistful of cards in Rogers’ sights includes the TSA’s hazardous materials endorsement for the commercial driver’s license. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency jointly administer the Free and Secure Trade card for drivers moving goods across the northern border. Local and state governments occasionally add their own requirements to the stack of credentials.
It took the TSA four painful years to begin issuing TWICs, but once the program was under way, nearly all port workers had cards within 18 months. The card is only one part of the system. Ports and vessels were to have electronic devices to read the card’s biometric data, but deployment has fallen years behind schedule. According to the Coast Guard, the industry won’t see a rule requiring installation of the readers until 2013. Until then, the TWIC is a very expensive photo ID card.
The system has its shortcomings, but no one is dropping it. “We support any tool that’s going to enhance the security of our ports, and TWIC is part of that,” said Larry Willis, secretary-treasurer of the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO.
The TSA, Willis said, harmonizes TWIC and hazmat processes to reduce card holders’ fees. The TTD wants Congress to prevent states from imposing their own requirements.
What hurts workers most is the time it takes for the process, especially for appeals if the TSA disqualifies them in the initial background check, Willis said. “We think it takes too long for workers to go through the TWIC process, for workers who have appeals that they’re going through.
“Those can drag on for months and months in too many cases,” Willis said. “Oftentimes it’s because the original background check done by the FBI has inaccurate or incomplete information, so a worker has to prove they weren’t convicted of a disqualifying offense.”
Employees going through appeals can’t work without a TWIC. “They can lose their jobs. They’re not getting paid, even if they are able to retain their job,” Willis said. “We’ve urged TSA to speed up the process.”
The TTD also wants legislation requiring the FBI to clean up its background check database.
“If you have to replace a card — a driver loses it — on average it’s 30 to 90 days to get it replaced,” Adamski said. Terminals may allow TWIC-less drivers in, but only if they’re escorted.
Still, there may be one benefit to multiple credentials. “Once I get a guy who has a hazmat endorsement and the TWIC, I’m pretty comfortable that this guy is legit,” Adamski said. “He’s here legitimately, and he has minimum skeletons in the closet. That to me is the comfort zone.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at firstname.lastname@example.org