Government, industry groups defend TWIC program

Government and industry organizations supporting the current technology and management path for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential joined this week to reject criticisms of the program issued by sources close to the project.

Meanwhile, some industry organizations went on the record to seek additional changes in TSA's plans for the credentials.

Transportation Security Administration officials presented point-by-point rebuttals of statements reported earlier in GCN about the TWIC program that cited flaws in the cards' security and durability. The flaws could expose the cards to counterfeiting and rapid failure that would facilitate their use as "breeder documents" to illegally obtain secure credentials, the sources said.

Although the final TWIC technology regulation has not yet been completed, an agency spokesman responding to the criticisms said that:
  • The TWIC cards will contain multiple security features specified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Federal Information Processing Standard 142 and other standards that will make them hard to counterfeit. The sources questioning the project said the low number of security measures, among other shortcomings, wouldn't slow sophisticated counterfeiters.
  • The cards will meet NIST's Personal Identity Verification standards for Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 cards and others that will provide physical and electronic security, TSA said.
  • Rather than failing at a rate of 25 percent to 50 percent, as sources with firsthand knowledge of the process stated, a TSA spokesman said that he had been told that the failure rate would be less than 1 percent.
  • The card reading delay, rather than lasting up to nine minutes as testing has shown, will last less than one second, TSA said.
  • TSA plans to specify card stock that will assure the reliability of the card and that the credential's authentication features will meet appropriate industry standards, the agency said.
  • TSA rejected assertions that TWIC cards issued overseas would not be secure, because it said it did not have current plans to issue TWIC cards to U.S. contractors overseas.
  • TSA said the card would contain biometric identifying information, and that a breakdown in telecommunications links, caused for example by a widespread storm, would not snarl the credential's identification function.
The agency went on to reject assertions that contract winner Lockheed Martin Corp. had lowballed the price, stating that the project's competitive bidding method had reduced the likely cost of the cards from between $39 to $159 to a level of $137.25. Industry sources had suggested that TSA might have fallen for a "bait and switch" tactic.

TSA earlier expected to pay $100 million to $110 million for the TWIC work, while Lockheed Martin's winning bid came in at $70 million. BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., bid $87 million, sources said. TSA confirmed the contract yesterday and said the first cards would be distributed in March.

Despite the fact that TSA rejected the criticisms of the TWIC project, the technology for the cards still appears to be a work in progress. Port officials and executives continue to provide technical advice to TSA about the system's final specifications.

"As far as we are concerned, the technology has not even been selected yet," said George Cummings, homeland security director for the Port of Los Angeles.

DHS has already run a small pilot in Los Angeles and Cummings is negotiating with TSA on the specifics of a field trial of TWIC cards that likely will involve thousands of units.

Cummings is not the source of the detailed criticisms of the TWIC card technology.

Other industry participants, including the American Association of Port Authorities, still are trying to influence TSA's technology decisions on the TWIC project, which remain fluid. AAPA endorses TSA's efforts to incorporate suggested industry tests and changes to its plans.

The long-delayed TWIC project is intended to furnish smart cards to workers at ports and similar transportation hubs to close off access to the strategic zones by terrorists.

If the credentials' authentication measures fail, the cards will revert to a flash-pass mode and provide minimal security, sources close to the program said. At that point, illegal aliens and terrorists would be able to use the TWIC cards to obtain "Real ID" drivers' licenses, the sources said.

The Smart Card Alliance also issued a letter condemning the criticisms of the TWIC program and made similar points to that of TSA.

As the TWIC story developed, additional sources chimed in with perspectives on potential weak points in the credential production process.

For example, they suggested that the Corbin, Ky., facility where DHS plans to provide the "personalization" function to link the cards to the persons using them might not have sufficient quality control. The sources suggested that the facility lacks the International Standards Organization 9000 certification that such facilities routinely have to assure quality control.

The Corbin plant is located in the district of Hal Rogers, former chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. That fact has attracted some skeptical comment in public circles, while Rogers has rejected any criticism of the facility and the choice of its location in rural southeastern Kentucky.

TSA is reviewing an inquiry on the ISO-9000 matter.

AAPA contends that TSA should intensively test the TWIC card readers that are central to the reliability of the card authentication process, and that TSA should shun the use of personal-identification numbers for the cards.

AAPA also holds that "The recent [Government Accountability Office] report critical of the TWIC program suggests the program has been underfunded from the beginning and needs to have a higher priority in the DHS budget going forward. AAPA agrees."

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

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