Key lawmakers, ports oppose switch of TWIC funds
Bipartisan leadership of the House Homeland Security Committee is objecting to Bush administration plans to divert $6.1 million intended to cover expenses for five ports participating in a trial program to develop reader technology for secure access cards.
The Transportation Security Administration wants to reprogram money Congress appropriated for the current fiscal year to help cover the ports’ portion of the costs for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. TSA and Coast Guard this year are enrolling, and issuing federal ID cards nationwide to dockworkers, truckers, mariners and others who need unescorted access to secure port areas. But the ports will have to rely on photo identification to clear workers because the card’s biometric feature will not work until approval of contactless readers that can function in harsh marine environments.
The Department of Homeland Security required that ports participating in the pilot project to test readers contribute a 25 percent match in order to receive grant funds, but Congress stepped in with the $6.1 million to relieve the ports of any burden.
Now, the TSA wants to redirect that money to help pay for extra costs associated with its management of the program, which has encountered slow enrollment and contractor difficulties in recent months. In May, the TSA extended the deadline by seven months for mariners, port workers and other personnel to obtain a TWIC card. The government will now require persons at most ports outside the New England area to obtain their card by April 15, 2009, rather than Sept. 25 of this year.
“Reprogramming these funds, as TSA is now proposing, would impede progress on the card reader pilots and potentially undermine the success of the program,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Peter King of New York, the ranking Republican on the panel, in a letter Friday to leaders of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.
The ports of New York-New Jersey, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Brownsville, Texas, and a cruise terminal in Annapolis, Md., are testing the card readers for TSA. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last year complained about the local cash match requirement for purchasing infrastructure and equipment for the pilot, saying the ports are already spending money from their own pockets to plan, manage and implement the TWIC program.
The American Association of Port Authorities recently wrote the Homeland Security Committee to oppose the TSA decision to use the local fund component for other purposes.
“If TSA now needs additional funds to complete the pilot, such funds should be requested as appropriations, but not at the expense of ports that will undertake the pilot,” Thompson and King said. ' Eric Kulisch