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October 1, 2008 11:20 AM, EDT
GAO Says Half of Workers Have Not Applied for TWIC

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Sept. 29 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Nearly a year into the application process, more than half of the estimated 1.2 million U.S. transportation workers have not applied for their Transportation Worker Identification Credential that, beginning April 15, 2009, will be required to gain entrance to all the nation’s ports and other transportation facilities.

So far, fewer than 498,000 workers, about 40%, have applied for TWIC cards at 149 fixed and 183 mobile enrollment sites. Of that number, about 319,000 cards have been activated for use, said Stephen Lord, acting director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office.

Lord, who testified on Sept. 17 to the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, said the large number of workers that remain to be enrolled in the TWIC program will mean the Transportation Security Administration “could experience challenges in meeting the enrollment target.”

In May, TSA extended the original Sept. 25 mandatory enrollment deadline because officials said they could not enroll workers in time (5-12, p. 5).
Lord also told Congress that TSA and the U.S. Coast Guard, the enforcement agency for U.S. ports, will face challenges in implementing a biometric reader system currently being tested in a pilot program.

The card reader system, originally intended to be deployed when the TWIC cards became mandatory, would authenticate through fingerprints whether the person holding the TWIC card is the rightful owner.

“To put this in perspective, this program was authorized in the Maritime Transportation Security Act that became law in November of 2002,” said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the subcommittee.

“That was almost six years ago! And the TWIC program is still not fully rolled out at ports, much less in any other transportation modes, and we continue to see delays in the mandatory enrollment date and in the reader rollout,” she said.

But Maurine Fanguy, TSA’s TWIC program director, told the subcommittee the agency believes it will meet the April 15 target date for mandatory enrollment. “We have more than adequate capacity,” Fanguy said. However, Fanguy said that because truckers are a “highly mobile workforce,” she could not control when they decide to enroll for a TWIC.

Lord said that truckers are an “independent lot by nature” and that they have been “reluctant to come forward and enroll.”

Because the TWIC card is only good for five years, the concern is that truckers could be waiting to enroll at the last minute because they want to get the full benefit of the five-year TWIC effective period.

“We are ready for the surge, but in all honesty, if 800,000 people come on the last day we cannot issue a card in a week,” said Judy Marks, president of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Transportation Security Systems, the contractor handling the TWIC enrollment for TSA.

Marks said on average the time between enrollment and obtaining the TWIC is two to three weeks.

However, Philip Byrd, chief executive officer of Bulldog Hiway Express, Charleston, S.C., said some of his employees waited two to three months to get their TWIC cards after they applied.

Byrd, who testified on behalf of American Trucking Associations, urged the subcommittee to support legislation that would ensure that truckers, especially those who transport hazardous materials, have to obtain only a single credential, and not be subjected to several criminal background checks to obtain a host of other credentials ranging from Free and Secure Trade border identification to Florida Unified Port Access Cards.

Byrd said the original legislation requiring the TWIC was intended to require all truckers to fill out only one application, pay one fee — currently $132.50 — and submit to a single FBI background check.

Byrd said truckers are asking, “How many background fingerprint checks do I have to go through to do my job — transporting America’s freight?”
Stephanie Bowman, federal government affairs manager for the Port of Tacoma, testified that she was concerned that the application process “will get significantly worse closer to the enrollment deadline.”

Bowman encouraged TSA and the Coast Guard to “take greater responsibility” in getting word out to truckers that they need to enroll early.

He also noted there were problems already with fingerprint reader software currently being tested at some ports, and that citizens born outside the United States were receiving conflicting information about what documents they needed to present to prove their citizenship to qualify for a TWIC.

Laura Moskowitz, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, said that incomplete FBI records were responsible for the roughly one-third of the 16,000 applicants denied a TWIC.

In some cases, FBI records did not show the final disposition of an arrest, while in other cases they did not distinguish whether an offense was a misdemeanor or felony.

Moskowitz said that the denials show a “serious problem with the FBI’s records.”