Senate committee's doubts about TWIC grow

Challenges persist with TWIC program: GAO

Implementation delays and high costs are draining confidence in the Transportation Security Administration’s Transportation Workers Identity Credential program, members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee told TSA officials April 12.

TSA officials blamed the delay on the agency’s need to adopt and test new standards before fully implementing the TWIC program, which will issue biometric smart cards for use as a standard identification badge for nearly 850,000 maritime-port transportation workers nationwide.

The program was supposed to start this month, but it has been delayed until the fall, said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

“I don’t think there can be a lot of optimism that this program can meet any of the targets that have been outlined,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). The hearing was a follow-up to a similar one a year ago.

The TWIC program will require 770,000 maritime and port employees at 3,500 facilities and on 5,300 vessels to carry a smart card that includes biometric and personally identifiable data. Workers will be expected to pay $137 for the card and background check. Final rules for the cards were published in January 2006. The program has gone through several prototype phases and several contractors before the award of a $70 million contract to Lockheed Martin for the rollout.

Government Accountability Office officials criticized the prototype card as “underwhelming,” noting that TSA’s sample for a test deployment was too small to get an accurate measure of the card’s effectiveness.

“It’s not off to a very auspicious start,” said Norman Rabkin, managing director for homeland security and justice at GAO.

Compounding the delays are new card architecture standards, which cleared a public-comment period in February. Those comments could require more testing of the standards, which could further delay the next step for TWIC implementation.

“We’re not going to move forward until the testing is done,” said Kip Hawley, assistant secretary at TSA. He called the network behind the card “complex.”

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