TWIC card reader tests need best practices, GAO says

But TSA did a good job of enrolling 93 percent by deadline, according to report

The Transportation Security Administration met the deadline for 93 percent of its Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) enrollees, but the agency should apply more best practices to the program's card reader evaluation phase, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

TSA enrolled 1.1 million seaport and transportation workers in the TWIC program as of April 2009, according to the report released Dec. 10. The enrollees go through a security check and receive biometric identification cards.

TSA experienced delays in distributing the TWIC cards due to an October 2008 power failure that affected personal identification number availability on approximately 410,000 cards. Replacement of the affected cards is likely to cost $26 million, GAO said.

But the problem could happen again, the GAO warned. To improve disaster recovery, the GAO recommended that TSA develop an information technology contingency plan for TWIC systems, including a data recovery plan in the event of another power outage.

Looking ahead, TSA currently is conducting a testing and evaluation pilot program for TWIC card readers that eventually will be deployed at ports.  TSA faces problems getting all the information it needs in the next phase of the project, evaluating the TWIC card readers in the pilot demonstration, GAO said.

“TSA has improved its scheduling practices in executing the pilot [program], but weaknesses remain, such as not capturing all pilot activities in the schedule, that may adversely impact the schedule’s usefulness as a management tool and for communicating with pilot participants in the maritime industry,” GAO wrote.

Shortcomings in planning for the TWIC make it unclear whether TSA will gather enough information from the card reader pilot project about operational impacts of deploying the readers, the report continued.

GAO recommended incorporation of best practices for the TWIC card reader pilot program to identify all activities in the program, assign sufficient resources, obtain agreements on the schedule and conduct a risk analysis, among other goals.

TSA officials agreed with nearly all the recommendations.

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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