Problems still hound TWIC

TSA agent

An unidentified TSA agent searches a bag. (Photo by Carolina K. Smith MD)

The homeland security agency that oversees background checks for federally issued port and transportation worker identity cards needs to clean up the data it uses to vet applicants and rely less on private contractors to do the checks, said a recent Government Accountability Office study.

The Transportation Security Administration's Adjudication Center is the agency's primary operational component in assessing potential threats among workers who have unescorted access to the secure areas of the nation's critical transportation infrastructure. Those workers must get Transportation Worker Identification Cards (TWIC) from TSA.

TSA officials said there were 2.3 million active cards as of July 7, and it had found 51,930 applicants ineligible for the document since October 2007.

TWIC technical and procedural difficulties have raised Congressional concerns before. Backlogged TWIC applications have also been a common complaint on Capitol Hill.

In the study released in the last days of July, GAO said Congress had asked it to examine the Adjudication Center's performance and staffing strategy. The watchdog agency looked at how TSA measured performance for the center and what its data showed. The assessment also include the ways in which TSA offices have coordinated to meet security threat assessment workload, and how the agency addressed the potential risks of using a mix of government employees and contractors to decide security threat assessments.

What GAO found was a mix of positives and negatives. It said while the center met timeliness and performance measures, it didn't meet caseload performance measures, which lead to application backups. It also found that applicants who had been disqualified weren't informed in time to appeal the decision in an effective manner. GAO also questioned the center's accuracy rates because it counted only disqualified applicants, and not incorrectly approved ones. While the center relies heavily on a contractor workforce, TSA said it has no transition plans to establish the government-only workforce it has said it wants to run the center.

"TSA must resolve the deficiencies that plague the Adjudication Center," said House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) "TWIC applicants deserve an appeals process that is fair, efficient, and accurate – and the American public deserves a process that quickly and accurately ferrets out those individuals who may present a threat to ports and railways. TSA's continued over-reliance on contractors to complete much of this work must end."

GAO recommended that TSA should:

  • Direct the center to calculate an accuracy rate that includes adjudicator performance for cases where applicants were both approved and disqualified
  • Share adjudicator staffing plans among key program offices;
  • Update its Adjudication Center workforce conversion plan and provide it to DHS for review and approval.

According to the report, DHS concurred with the recommendations.


About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Mon, Mar 16, 2015 Adriana Corpus Christi

It's been 10 weeks since I went to renew my card and it still hasn't been mailed out to me. As of today, I am unable to go back to work until it arrives, which according to the call center it will take 2-3 more weeks. As a single mother this is going to cause a great economic impact on my home. Not a happy camper right now.

Thu, Jan 22, 2015

Yeah... I had to submit a waver . I found out that I needed to within the first 60 days . But at the end of January it will have been eight months since I filed my waver . A lady contacted me at the end of November saying they were finally getting to it . She said I needed to submit the proper court papers , which I had already done twice . She didn't want to read threw the documents to find what she was looking for . So I pulled out the fax and circled everything in there she says wasn't listed . I circled it all it crayon and made several smart ass remarks to the effect . Also a comment about since we sent monkeys in space maybe we should appoint some to handle twic.

Thu, Dec 11, 2014 Sylvia Torrance

My husband paid 2 and half months ago. He may not get a job at the port due to TSA backlogged. Alot od people were turned down jobs because of TSA, and I feel there will be a law suit soon. People need to work and its their fault.

Mon, Nov 3, 2014 theron warren United States

I'm extremely frustrated at the process. I applied for my Card August 12 2014 and I haven't received anything and heard anything. The call center is worthless and no one can tell you anything but It's At TSA. Really what's the purpose of a call center/help desk when they can't provide anything but to say It's waiting on TSA for approval. How about you shouldn't be pay for the card until it arrives! Quick to collect money for services that's not rendered! I have a clean background and as a recent Army retiree with a active secret clearance I didn't think this would take this long. People are loosing out on jobs and are loosing jobs because the lack of attention TSA is providing TWIC cards. I guess when it's not your job or a potential job on line then it's not important!

Tue, Jul 1, 2014

I have a CDL drivers license with hazardous material endorsement. I have been finger printed and invested. Not sharing information is one of the causes for 9/11.

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