On Second Thought …
Chief Marketing officer,
board of directors
Transport Marketing and Sales Association
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential was launched with the best of intentions, spurred by the tragic events of 9/11.
With security measures heightening everywhere, Congress, through the Maritime Transportation Security Act, established what was to be a one-size-fits-all security clearance card — one that would contain workers’ biometric data and clear them for unescorted access to our nation’s ports and warehouses.
Ten years, $420 million and 1.8 million enrolled workers later, the card, which is jointly administered by the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard, is widely considered as secure as a library card. It has been characterized as duplicative, inefficient and burdensome by members of Congress, and even TSA Administrator John S. Pistole agrees it’s proving more difficult than expected.
The fact remains TWIC has yet to live up to its mission to:
• Identify authorized individuals who require unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s transportation system.
• Conduct a security threat assessment (STA) to determine eligibility of individuals to be authorized unescorted access to secure areas of the transportation system.
• Ensure unauthorized individuals are not able to defeat or otherwise compromise the access system in order to be granted permissions assigned to an authorized individual.
• Identify individuals who fail to maintain eligibility requirements and immediately revoke their permissions.
TWIC’s struggles are due in large part to the way the government itself is structured. With different modes of transportation regulated by different agencies — each with varying rules and sources of funding — one card simply doesn’t work.
The TWIC program requires an STA be conducted on each worker and cross-referenced with databases at the CIA, FBI and other agencies to check for terrorist activity and other disqualifying crimes. The same background check is conducted when truck drivers apply for hazardous materials endorsement, yet because the certification is state-issued, it does not qualify for TWIC registration. The hazmat certification card doesn’t have the same kind of biometric rigor and is not readable by the same technology used to read TWIC cards.
Free and Secure Trade certified drivers who cross our borders to the north and south have also undergone the same background check, another duplication of effort.
A highly critical report from the Government Accountability Office states, “a government-wide infrastructure does not exist for information sharing across all entities that issue breeder documents that relying parties use to positively authenticate identity.” This lack of infrastructure made it possible for GAO investigators to access ports using counterfeit TWICs or authentic TWICs acquired through fraudulent means, and by stating false reasons for needing access. Operating in this environment is not only inefficient from a cost perspective, but it creates the very vulnerability to terrorist events that TWIC was designed to prevent.
TWIC is also being adopted outside of its original scope of focusing on ports and warehouses, adding another level of complexity. For example, under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards, high-risk chemical facilities must vet employees and anyone who enters the premises.
Without one document and one standard, it becomes nearly impossible for companies to visit ports, haul hazardous materials and coordinate with government, military, chemical and other secure facilities, such as airports. Overall, there is excess oversight and expense, with a lack of interoperability, consistency and common disqualifying factors across constituencies. TSA estimates the federal government and private sector could spend up to $3.2 billion over the next 10-year period on TWIC (excluding the cost of readers).
Another challenge for TWIC is the inability to create and make available the card reader that can retrieve stored biometric data necessary to verify security clearance. The delay in this card reader, coupled with redundant background checks, redundancy of credentialing and lack of interoperability, is creating more security issues than ever. If TSA declines a worker’s access or pulls their TWIC card, and every secure facility keeps its own list, that same individual could gain access elsewhere if facilities don’t manually update their systems. It’s difficult to believe a heightened level of security can even be attained at this point without managing updates electronically through one central database.
There’s no question we need security threat assessments on those who require unescorted access to sensitive materials and secure areas, but the multiple paths we’re going down have the potential to become a recipe for disaster. Congress is taking a closer look at TWIC. They’ve seen the report from GAO and they’re beginning to realize the true dangers of keeping the process as it is.
The longer we delay these improvements, the bigger the bill for taxpayers, the more likely competing credentials will spring up in different industries and different agencies, and, most important, the more susceptible we will be to acts of terrorism.
Ten years have passed since the tragedy of 9/11 and the launch of the TWIC program. With significant improvements and a united plan of action, this is a program that — as it originally intended — can ensure a safe, secure U.S. transportation system.