US Coast Guard criticized as uneven in implementing biometric TWIC scans
The US will delay a rule that could have slowed drayage and intermodal drivers accessing ports after complaints about its uneven enforcement and the potential for logistical hiccups.
The US Coast Guard is soon expected to file notice in the Federal Register that it will delay requiring certain ports to use biometric inspections of the Transport Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
The filing comes after US President Donald Trump signed last week the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Accountability Act of 2018.
Implemented in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks, TWICs are required for drayage drivers, longshoremen and others needing unrestricted access to ports. Truckers entering major ports without a TWIC otherwise usually require escorts.
TWICs are now just checked against the card holder’s photo on the card. But TWICs also have electronic chips holding the applicant’s fingerprints.
By the end of this August, the US Coast Guard was going to require ports it considered highly sensitive to start using a biometric scan of TWIC cards, rather than just a visual scan of the cards.
But the recently passed law requires the biometric scans be delayed until after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can assess the effectiveness of the current TWIC program.
Government watchdogs have criticized the TWIC program for inaccurate background checks and its high administrative costs. It can take up to eight weeks to get a TWIC from the Transportation Safety Administration, which checks the criminal background and citizenship history of applicants.
The new biometric scanning rule has also been panned by industry as ill-defined and causing more delays.
Boyd Stephenson, senior vice president of National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), says his group opposed the TWIC reader rule because the type of facilities that would be required to have biometric scans was ill-defined when the final rule was published.
The US Coast Guard originally targeted biometric TWIC scans at ports that store hazardous materials or handle over 1,000 passengers. But the rule as written in federal code required biometric scans at any site that holds hazardous materials and even non-maritime sites such as trucking and rail terminals.
“The Coast Guard pulled a switcheroo,” Stephenson said. “That’s cheating under the administrative law procedures.”
The NTTC signed on to a lawsuit filed by the International Liquid Terminals Association, American Chemistry Council, and the Fertilizer Institute seeking to block the US Coast Guard and DHS from implementing the law.
The trade groups are not opposed to using biometric scans. But the law as written would have forced them to install biometric scanning at some facilities and then wait for further clarification on installing them at other facilities.
The unclear definition of which facilities will be required to use biometric scanning “means possible multiple rounds of facility capital improvements and, consequently, multiple delay periods for the trucks that pickup and deliver at these facilities while they are under construction,” Stephenson wrote in a letter to the US Coast Guard.
“The big fight is whether to install the biometric scans at sites under the current rule and then decide later to install at other facilities,” Stephenson said. “We would prefer everything to happen at the same time.”
For truckers, the multiple rounds of installing biometric scanners means trucks facing delays, Stephenson says. The issue is more critical now due to hours of service requirements, he added.
“We are the ones whose cards are going to get read,” Stephenson said. “There could be delays of six to eight hours for trucks. This has implications for trucking writ large.”