Ports and marine terminal operators that have been waiting anxiously for the Coast Guard to release its notice of proposed rule-making on the implementation of Transportation Worker Identification Credential card readers can expect the announcement to come by the end of the year.
The rule-making is significant because port and other transportation facility operators eventually will be required to invest in the costly devices that will read the biometric information on workers that have daily access to facilities considered to be possible terrorist targets.
Mike Hvozda, senior chief petty officer at the Coast Guard, said the release of the notice of proposed rule-making will be followed by a public comment period to last at least 60 days. The government will consider the comments it receives when it writes the final rule for the biometric reading devices next year.
The proposed rule will indirectly include the technical specifications for the TWIC card readers, but it won’t actually list the specifications. Rather, interested parties will be directed to the Transportation Security Administration’s Web site. TSA spokeswoman Nico Melendez said the agency released the technical specifications in May 2008 and updated them in May 2012.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued some 2 million TWIC cards since 2007. The cards identify transportation workers such as longshoremen and harbor truckers that have been cleared for employment at ports and other facilities.
Workers applying for TWIC cards must provide biographic and biometric information, sit for a digital photo and pass a security threat assessment.
Development of the TWIC program followed the September 11 terrorist attacks. Federal government security agencies have experienced intense pressure from Congress to tighten security under the TWIC program.
The TWIC cards contain pictures and biometric data on the transportation industry workers, but because most marine terminals and transportation facilities have yet to install readers, workers can only show the cards to security personnel who make a visual check of the workers seeking entry.
TWIC card readers process biometric data and therefore must be manufactured to detailed specifications to ensure they are tamper-proof and do the job properly. The complexity of operating TWIC card readers in the high-traffic, harsh waterfront environment has made the government’s task of detailing the technical specifications all the more complex. There are dozens of readers on the market, and tests have been conducted at port and inland locations.
Although the DHS has encouraged ports and terminal operators to purchase and install readers, they have hesitated to make a major investment in the hardware for fear the devices they buy won’t comply with government technical specifications when the rules are finalized. The government has yet to specify a date when the readers must be installed.
Delays in pulling all of the requirements together have been a source of concern to ports and terminal operators. The American Association of Port Authorities in June told a House of Representatives subcommittee that delays in implementing the TWIC card reader program could cost the industry money.
Joe Lawless, maritime security director at the Massachusetts Port Authority and chairman of the AAPA’s security committee, said money that had been awarded under certain security grant programs could be lost if not spent in a specified period of time. Hvozda said the issue of the grant money has yet to be determined.
Also in June, the House Committee on Homeland Security passed the SMART Port Act. That legislation contains a number of security provisions involving interagency cooperation. It also institutes changes to the TWIC program by prompting the DHS to install readers, improve efficiency for enrollees and prevent unauthorized use of the cards.