Challenges persist with TWIC program: GAO

The Transportation Security Administration has improved its management of the Transportation Workers Identification Credential in the last six months, but problems remain in ensuring effectiveness and compatibility of the TWIC cards and readers in the field, according to testimony this week by a senior executive with the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO cited a lack of oversight and poor coordination with the maritime industry in its September 2006 review of the TWIC program. Since then, the TSA has added program management staff, established monthly reviews and reached out to improve communications with harbor operators and shipyards, Norman J. Rabkin, managing director of homeland security and justice issues for GAO, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

But more difficulties lay ahead as the TWIC enrollment contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., transitions to large-scale activities to enroll 770,000 transportation workers. There are concerns about educating workers, maintaining a timetable for enrollment and dealing with background checks for all the workers, GAO said.

In addition, the TWIC card and reader technologies and their validations remain problematic. For example, TSA did not test biometric card readers on vessels, even though they will be required on vessels in the future. Concerns still exist about how the cards and readers will perform on vessels and how the vessels will communicate remotely with TSA, GAO said.

Maritime industry representatives also are anxious about the costs of implementing and operating TWIC access control systems, linking card readers to their local access control systems and connecting to TSA's national TWIC database to obtain updated information on cardholders, GAO said.

Overall, it won't be possible to fully judge the effectiveness of TSA's management of TWIC until enrollment begins, and setting realistic schedules is a key concern, the GAO said. "While TSA plans to begin enrolling workers and issuing cards in the next few months, it is important that the agency establish clear and reasonable time frames for implementing TWIC," GAO concluded.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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