TSA and the Coast Guard today eased the burden on maritime transportation workers who needed to renew their biometric ID cards under an unpopular antiterrorism program that has experienced major technology delays.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) today eased the burden on maritime transportation workers who needed to renew their biometric ID cards under an unpopular antiterrorism program that has experienced major technology delays.
Under the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program , transportation workers and mariners with access to restricted and secure areas of U.S. port complexes and vessels were required to apply for biometrically enhanced ID cards, which would verify that they were not a security threat and allow them unescorted access to secure areas after swiping their cards through a biometric card reader.
Since the program began, 2.1 million people—mainly longshoremen, truckers, merchant mariners, and rail workers—have received TWIC cards after undergoing an extensive background check and paying approximately $130 for the application fee. According to TSA, 1.9 million cards have been activated since the program began.
Beginning this fall, the first wave of cards issued by TSA will begin to expire. Rather than having current card holders with expiring TWICs go through the full renewal process, TSA and USCG have cut the price more than half and eased the application process so that workers only have to go to the enrollment center once. (Under the traditional renewal process, card holders must travel to an enrollment center and submit a recent picture and fingerprints and then pick up the card at the same place at a later date.) In return, workers will receive a one-time only extended expiration date (EED) TWIC that’s good for three years. Ony U.S. nationals are eligible for the EED TWIC. Workers with expiring cards can apply for an EED TWIC beginning in August.
“I am pleased that the Administration listened to my concerns about the impending TWIC renewal problem and developed a new option for port and transportation security workers who—starting this fall—will need to renew their expiring TWIC cards,” Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee Bennie G. Thompson, a critic of the program’s implementation, said in a statement this morning.
What’s frustrating for those impacted by TWIC renewals is that the government hasn’t fulfilled its responsibility under the program. More than three years after TSA required affected workers to have their cards, there still aren’t card readers in place to verify them. The problem has been manufacturing a card reader that can withstand the harsh environment around ports and the maritime domain. Without the card readers, TWIC card holders must present their cards to guards who then grant the worker access to restricted areas.
In practice, however, says Fred McLuckie, legislative director for the Teamsters union, card checks are less than reliable. “We hear stories every day about how drivers hold the card out the window and sort of show it to the security folks and they gain entrance into the ports.” Because of stories like these, Thompson refers to TWIC cards as "expensive flash-passes."
That sense of annoyance and skepticism among TWIC stakeholders led to the policy change. “The EED TWIC is a one-time temporary extension option intended to provide convenience and cost-savings to workers pending the deployment of TWIC readers,” according to a policy update posted online this morning by the TSA.
While supportive of the TWIC renewal process change, McLuckie says it still remains a burden for workers despite the concession. Many workers will still have to take time off of work to travel to the enrollment center and pay $60 for the EED TWIC. Sometimes that means significant time and expense. During a conference call with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Friday, according to McLuckie, another union representative on the call remarked that he has members that have to drive 600 miles round trip to an enrollment center to get the TWIC at their own expense.
“It’s been somewhat of a waste of money to charge the amount of money they did for this card, that for the most part, is being used as a glorified ID card,” says McLuckie.
According to another TSA briefing released online today, card readers will not be in place anytime soon. Before the end of the year, the Coast Guard expects to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking for card reader requirements and deployment requirement plans.
“By the end of the three year extension period, pending the outcome of this rulemaking activity, DHS expects to have card reader requirements in place, and readers will be deployed at the facilities with the highest risk,” concludes the TSA release.
♦ Photo from Department of Transportation