THE MAGAZINE

A Department Under Fire

By Matthew Harwood

Then there is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program, which was supposed to secure sensitive areas at port facilities by requiring that workers purchase biometric ID cards and have them verified by card readers purchased by port facility and vessel operators. Readers for the cards haven’t been deployed because of technological difficulties, and it’s unclear when they might be deployed. The U.S. Coast Guard told Congress this summer that a notice of proposed rulemaking for TWIC readers would be issued before the end of 2012. A final rule should have been published in April 2009, almost four years ago, according to the SAFE Port Act of 2006.

For now, workers are stuck paying about $130 for biometric cards that aren’t much more than “expensive flash passes,” according to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I cannot think of too many programs in government that have had more delays, more costs to the taxpayers, and more incidents of failing to perform,” said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Another issue is profiling. In August, more than 30 TSOs went to The New York Times alleging that agency employees had engaged in persistent racial profiling as part of the TSA Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. It was the third time in one year that such allegations had been made at different airports. In response, Thompson wrote a letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole calling for a comprehensive review of the program. TSA responded by retraining some employees and warning all employees that racial profiling would not be tolerated.

Part of the problem may be a lack of accountability, say David C. Maurer, director of homeland security and justice for the GAO and Matt Mayer, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former DHS official. Both say they could not remember a time when either DHS program managers or failing contractors were fired. “It just doesn’t happen,” Mayer says. DHS Spokesman Matthew Chandler disagrees with that assessment, however. “Executive and managerial performance is consistently evaluated to ensure [that] employees are meeting the goals and requirements of their jobs,” he says.

One barrier to improving management of DHS, says Maurer, is a slowly dying mind-set that he likens to a post-9-11 cultural phenomenon. “It’s like the TV show, 24, Jack Bauer and all that running around,” he says. “There is a little bit too much of that culture at DHS that still persists.”

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