Slow start for TWIC

Published 3 December 2007

More than one million workers with escorted access to 361 U.S. ports could register for the security clearance — more than four years after the program was to have started

More than one million workers with escorted access to 361 U.S. ports could register for the security clearance as the TSA phases in enrollment through September 2008 — more than four years after the program was to have started. “This is one step toward commonality, taking the burden off private industry by having the government do the background checks,” said Brian Kelley, the U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port of Baltimore. “We don’t want it to be overly burdensome on commerce, but we cannot compromise on security.” TSA and port officials demonstrated how enrollment works at the TWIC processing center on Broening Highway yesterday. A couple of hundred longshoremen, contractors, and truckers have applied for the cards since registration began last week. The Baltimore Sun’s Laura McCandluish writes that the process — which includes an extensive background check - is expected to last months. The cards will not be required to gain access to Baltimore’s secure terminals and vessels until spring. The TSA is developing the fingerprint-reading technology, which might not be rolled out until 2009, said Lisa Himber, co-chairwoman of the TWIC working group for the National Maritime Security Committee. In the interim, the Coast Guard will inspect the cards, occasionally performing spot checks with scanners. “We’re been looking forward to this for a long time, but there are still a lot of questions about how we’re going to be able to effectively implement it,” said Himber, vice president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay in Philadelphia.

For years, technical and bureaucratic hurdles — and, as we have written, unhelpful political interventions by Represneative Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), who insisted the key pieces of the TWIC project be performed in his 5th District and by people who contributed to his political campaign — have held up the TWIC cards, which were to be issued in 2004. In addition to a bar code, photo, and magnetic strip, the cards have fingerprint data encrypted in a gold chip. The readers required to scan that data are being redesigned to allow for a quick swipe. Cards had to be inserted into the original scanners, which would be too time-consuming, Himber said.

Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, criticized the TSA for the time lag: “The way that they manage the procurement of technology is somewhat laughable,” he said. The cost and rigorous background checks required by the new cards place an unfair burden on port workers, Wytkind added. Leaders of Baltimore’s Local 333 of the International Longshoremen’s Association worry that their members with criminal records could lose their jobs under the anti-terrorism effort. “The waterfront has traditionally been a place where those who have not had a stellar record could have a second chance at life,” said John Blom, vice president of Local 333. “People should not be barred if they’ve served their time.”

Lockheed Martin has secured the initial $70 million contract to run the TWIC enrollment.