Tens of thousands of Transportation Worker Identification Credentials issued in 2008 and 2009 are hitting their five-year expirations, creating a surge in renewals and complaints about delays.
Delays in TWIC renewals are “a potential national disaster,” said Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, an affiliate of the American Trucking Associations. She said owner-operator drivers whose TWICs expire face loss of income and companies run short of drivers.
TWICs are required for unescorted access into secure areas at port terminals, airports and other transportation facilities. The card, part of the response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, was envisioned as a universal biometric transportation ID card.
Because the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t issued plans for biometric readers, TWIC remains merely a photo ID. But it’s a necessary ticket for access to secure transportation facilities for truck drivers and others.
At New York-New Jersey, TWIC is linked to the port authority’s SeaLink cards for truck driver identification. When a driver’s TWIC expires, his SeaLink clearance is canceled automatically and he’s turned away at the gate.
SeaLink is unique to New York-New Jersey, but questions are being raised at other ports about the Transportation Security Administration’s ability to handle the surge in TWIC extensions and renewals during the coming months.
Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., raised the issue at a recent hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard and maritime transport subcommittee. She said some 60,000 TWICs in and around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will need renewal this year, and questioned whether government officials can keep pace. “I think it’s a problem, and we better figure out what we can do,” Hahn said.
The extent of the problem is unclear. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, told Hahn he wasn’t aware of widespread delays in TWIC renewals.
Bethann Rooney, manager of port security at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said the TSA has been
struggling with a heavy backlog of renewals after the cards’ initial five-year enrollments. “Apparently, it’s pure volume,” she said.
Requests for three-year Extended Expiration Date renewals topped 21,000 a month from January through March, TSA statistics show. TWICs for drivers serving New York-New Jersey port terminals are expiring at an average of 800 to 1,000 per month, and expirations are expected to continue at that level through year-end, Rooney said.
Workers may apply for three-year EED renewals, which cost $60, or a five-year renewal, which carries the same $129.75 fee as an original enrollment.
Coast Guard regulations don’t permit terminals to admit a driver who has applied and paid for a TWIC renewal but hasn’t received his new card before the old one expires, Rooney said. Truckers have asked for a waiver of that policy.
The TSA is advising applicants to file for renewal four months before their old cards expire. The agency said it normally processes cards in six to eight weeks, but it can take longer. At a New Jersey Motor Truck Association forum in early April, Rooney said about 170 port authority staffers whose TWIC cards expire in May were waiting for new cards even though they applied in January.
Rooney urged companies to follow the TSA’s advice and encourage drivers to apply for renewals early. If a worker applies four months before the card expires, the new card should arrive in time, she said. “If you wait till a month before your TWIC card expires, you are definitely in jeopardy of not getting it in on time, and being locked out of the terminal,” Rooney said.
Another tip: If you need to call the TSA’s help desk, follow the agency’s Web site advice and call between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. EDT or between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. EDT. If you call at peak times, Rooney said, you’ll be stuck in a long phone queue and “you’ll spend several hours on interminable hold with elevator music.”