Tangled Up in TWIC

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program is broken. Millions of dollars have been spent propping up a program that has floundered since inception. Instead of pouring more money into this bottomless pit of mistakes, the Department of Homeland Security should stop drafting the biometric reader regulation and determine if TWIC truly enhances port security.

The TWIC credential is the perfect example of a program that has done more harm than good. Thousands of people spent countless sleepless nights in 2008 and 2009 waiting for the DHS to process their credential paperwork after the agency told them they couldn’t go to work if they didn’t have a credential.

So these individuals dutifully filled out their paperwork and paid more than $100 for a card they were told would help improve our nation’s port security.  The DHS, however, didn’t provide the credentials in a timely manner. Why? Because it lost applicants’ paperwork; it had computer problems; and it had general problems manufacturing the cards. 

Regardless of what was going on at the DHS, thousands of transportation workers couldn’t go to work, and they couldn’t earn a paycheck.

Fast-forward to 2013. The Government Accountability Office released a report this week recommending that Congress halt DHS’s efforts to promulgate the final reader regulation until the agency completes a security assessment of the program.

The report came out after the DHS held four public meetings around the country. It came out after the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp sent a letter to Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, stating that the public comment period for the rule-making had been extended but that none of the comments received to date indicated more time was needed for comment.

Public meetings such as the ones held in Washington, Houston, Seattle and Chicago to discuss the proposed reader regulation are a financial burden. Interested people travel from around the country to present their comments and most of them stay at hotels. A quick Internet search found that hotel rooms in Chicago, Seattle and Houston cost between $100 and $200 a night. Multiplying the cost of the hotel rooms, food and the time lost due to travel for all those who attended these meetings and taking into account the time it took for individuals to draft their comments is staggering. 

The DHS knew about the GAO findings before the public meetings occurred and before Adm. Papp sent his letter. The fiscally prudent solution would have been for the DHS to stop the regulation and cancel the meetings. Holding the meetings was wasteful to the government and those who attended. It also demonstrated a continued disregard on the government’s part toward transportation workers.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the subcommittee on government operations, on Thursday held a hearing on the TWIC reader program, during which the GAO was asked to testify on its findings. The DHS sent a career official to defend the much-maligned credential, an official who will not make the final decision on TWIC’s future. That decision will come from DHS political appointees, and they should have been the ones to testify.

Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the TWIC program over the past 10 years. Transportation workers have spent millions of dollars to attain this card, money that could have been spent on rent, groceries and everyday needs. 

It’s time for the DHS political appointees to focus on helping instead of harming transportation workers. The DHS should stop the reader regulation and finally determine the benefits of this supposed extra layer of security.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former chief counsel at the U.S. Maritime Administration and a former senior counsel on the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. Contact her at kdrkrepp@hotmail.com.

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