The Department of Homeland Security needs to finish its homework before it implements the Transportation Worker Identity Credential, says a federal watchdog agency.
DHS must solve a host of problems with TWIC before it puts the program in place, according to the Government Accountability Office. Failure to fix the flaws "could lead to further problems, increased costs and program delays without achieving the program's intended goals," the agency said.
The TWIC, which has been in the works for five years, is a card with fingerprint identification that a worker can use to get into a secure maritime facility. The TWIC requires a background check of criminal, immigration and terrorist records. Conceptually, the TWIC would eventually function as a sort of universal ID and security card for all transportation modes, but for the time being the government is limiting its focus to the maritime sector.
GAO, which serves as a kind of auditor for government agencies and regulations, studied the TWIC program and found three major problems.
The first has to do with the practical challenge of enrolling and issuing cards to some 750,000 maritime workers, including the estimated 110,000 truck drivers who serve port facilities. DHS tested its plan but only on a small scale – the actual population of workers is significantly larger than the test, GAO said.
The second problem is that key TWIC technology – specifically, the devices that read the biometric identifier on the card – may not work properly. The two DHS agencies in charge of the program, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration, have recognized that problem. They have started a separate rulemaking on the requirement that port operators install TWIC scanning devices as part of their security systems.
Third, DHS needs to balance the security gains of TWIC with potential disruptions it may have on the flow of maritime commerce, the agency said.
DHS needs to develop and test solutions to these problems, and improve its handling of the contractors that are working on the program, before it pushes the start button, the agency said.
These concerns come on top of industry objections to TWIC. Trucking and shipping interests have warned that the TWIC is a piecemeal, overpriced approach to transportation security.
We still haven't secured our ports. This is not just a terrorism issue, many of the major ports are are near hotbeds of cargo theft. Of course, making sure the port drivers aren't reduced to living on cat food would help with security too.