A Government Accountability Office report criticizing a pilot test of Transportation Worker Identification Credential biometric readers does not diminish the justification for TWIC as a port security tool, a Coast Guard official said.
The pilot program is only one of several factors the Coast Guard is considering in drafting regulations for TWIC readers, Capt. Paul Thomas, the Coast Guard’s director of inspections and compliance, told The Journal of Commerce.
The Coast Guard is accepting comments through June 20 on its notice of proposed rule-making for TWIC readers.
“We’re happy to have the results from the pilot program. We will use them where it is appropriate to use them. We don’t see the GAO report as significantly impacting our way forward with TWIC,” Thomas said.
The GAO said the voluntary pilot program for TWIC readers produced results that “were incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable for informing Congress and for developing a regulation” for the readers. The report also renewed the GAO’s suggestion that a less-centralized approach might work better than a single nationwide identification credential for transportation workers.
A House oversight committee amplified the GAO’s criticism during a May 9 hearing. Members complained that 11 years after lawmakers authorized TWIC, the card still functions only as a flash ID.
Congress required TWIC in 2002, overriding complaints that the technology wasn’t ready. The idea was a single biometric ID card for transportation workers. Cards were issued in 2007, but standards for biometric readers still haven’t been finalized.
Thomas said the Coast Guard will review comments, a process expected to take about a year, and that the current schedule calls for an additional two years for implementation.
The Coast Guard’s proposed rule-making would require biometric readers only for vessels and port facilities handling dangerous bulk commodities, fleeting areas for barges handling those commodities, and vessels or facilities handling more than 1,000 passengers at a time.
Readers would not be required for container terminals, a decision based on a cost-benefit calculation. Expanding the reader requirement to facilities such as container terminals would push the annual cost of the reader program to $141.2 million from $26.5 million, the Coast Guard said.
The reader requirement could be expanded, and there’s nothing in the proposed regulations to prevent a terminal from using a portable biometric reader for spot checks or special needs, Thomas noted. He said the readers and TWIC itself are only one part of a multilayered maritime security program.
“We don’t tie the value of the TWIC to the reader. We see the reader as a further enhancement of an access control system that includes fencing, lighting, gates, guards, the credential, and in certain high-risk facilities, the reader. But one is not dependent on the other,” he said.
Truck drivers and others have complained of delays in renewal of TWIC cards that are reaching their five-year expirations. The Transportation Security Administration, which issues TWICs, said it is working on those problems.
Thomas said the customer service problems surrounding TWIC renewals should not be confused with the overall need for a uniform credential for transportation workers. He disputed the GAO’s suggestion that a decentralized system might work better than a nationwide credential.
He said a uniform ID reduces the threat of fraud, and makes it easier for security personnel to identify improper credentials. A single nationwide ID also is less burdensome to workers than having to acquire different credentials from various entities for mulitiple facilities that may be scattered over several states, Thomas said.