TWIC card delayed

The Homeland Security Department's snakebit program to issue secure credentials to workers at ports, airports and other transportation hubs hit a new barrier this week. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program faces a delay of one of its most important security requirements: a mandate that facility and vessel owners install biometric card readers in its first phase.

The Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard issued the card reader installation delay in a Federal Register notice Aug. 21. Both are agencies of DHS.

The notice responded to dozens of requests for extension of the comment period on the TWIC notice of proposed rulemaking. TSA and the Coast Guard denied those requests.

But the notice also included the text of a letter to several members of Congress who had requested comment period extensions and added requests for substantive changes in the draft rules.

The letter said that "facility and vessel owners and operators will not be required to purchase or install card readers during the first phase of TWIC implementation."

The two agencies added that DHS would delay the card reader requirement until the public receives an additional opportunity to comment on the matter.

The NPRM attracted comments from the Navy, Interior and Agriculture departments; Florida transportation and law enforcement agencies; the European Commission; and five members of Congress. In addition, more than 100 trade associations, companies and private citizens filed comments. Many of the comments warned of significant problems with the TWIC program.

For example, the International Biometric Industry Association warned that federal employees using credentials that comply with the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 and so use contact readers would cause problems at seaports and on ships. IBIA warned that contact card readers could collect dirt, dust and moisture that would damage the reader or the card.

TWIC is many months behind schedule. DHS deputy secretary Michael Jackson promised during Senate testimony in May that TSA and the Coast Guard would jump-start the troubled program.

The removal of the card reader requirement does not eliminate TWIC's security benefit altogether, according to some reports. Port and rail workers still could be required to use the cards as a "flash pass" in the program's first phase. The workers would have to pass a background check to receive the cards.

Extensive comments on details of the TWIC rulemaking notice by organizations such as the American Association of Port Authorities pointed out that the credential project's draft rules would seriously hamper port operations. Unions represented by the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO objected "vehemently" to the $150 cost of the card, among many other parts of the program.

The Navy's Military Sealift Command also objected to the card's cost, and said the Pentagon's Common Access Cards should fulfill TWIC requirements. The command has almost 7,000 military and civilian personnel.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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