Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

As a group, the 535 elected senators and representatives in Congress don't have a great reputation for taking thoughtful and statesmanlike approach to the nation's transportation and security needs.

Anyone wondering why can take a look at some recent events.

We asked in this space a couple of weeks ago what exactly the oddly configured government holding company called the Department of Homeland Security has done to justify its existence. Congress, over initial objections from the Bush administration, created DHS. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Congress  provides answers to questions about DHS.

The best answer comes from the office of Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Ky., and the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security - the House panel that holds the purse strings, and the power, over the department.

As Associate Editor Angela Greiling Keane details in this week's edition, Rogers inserted into the DHS spending plan a directive that was unusually direct even by congressional appropriations standards. "The secretary of Homeland Security shall utilize the Transportation Security Clearinghouse as the central identity management system for the deployment and operation of the registered traveler program and the transportation worker identification credential program ?"

Yes, we probably should be happy the contract wasn't directed toward Halliburton, and it may be that TSC, an experienced contractor in security data management, is entirely the right outfit at the right place at the right time for this program.

If it is, the idealists among us would assume, of course, that TSC is not exactly the kind of company set up under a classic business school model. TSC is a kind of partnership between the federal government and the American Association of Airport Executives and has helped manage projects such as a pilot project at Orlando International Airport to allow so-called "trusted travelers" to avoid long security checkpoint lines.

The real shame is that the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program is really something of a mess and needs some of that thoughtfulness we mentioned earlier to get it off the ground.

More than four years after the need for the program was first raised, TWIC is barely on the drawing board in any meaningful way. It was only last week that some key elements of the program started taking shape and there were contradictions even there.

The regulation itself has been too long in the making, leaving port operators and other transport groups in a kind of limbo as they seek to ramp up their own security plans to meet standards still unseen.

This was going on as a congressional committee was debating other aspects of supply chain security, including what one group called mandates for "untested" container screening technology at ports and airports.

For shippers and others who make the nation's economy move, it's the direction from Congress itself that turns out to be the real test.