The federal government committed to new biometric security cards for use in our ports 13 years ago. But DHS has still not set specific guidelines on how to read these TWIC cards.
Florida Congressman John Mica calls it a billion-dollar fiasco.
"It's more of a 'Three Stooges' card that does not work and it's a joke," said Mica.
Congress created this TWIC program after the September 11th attacks. It was supposed to improve port security. Workers, truckers, and others would need these cards to go through ports without an escort. They're encoded with fingerprint data -- and more -- to match the person to the card.
But Homeland security developed the card without issuing approved readers or rules on how to read or use the cards.
Port Manatee (among others) purchased systems that do scan and read the cards with grant money. But those systems are operating without specific federal guidelines and with no clear indication of when those rules may be issued.
"We gave it our best guess," said David St. Pierre, director of seaport security at Port Manatee. "One would have thought they would have that resolved much faster, but it's not."
After 10 years of development, a pilot program to produce a readers was flagged in a federal review. A GAO review from 2013 noted the pilot program was "inaccurate, and unreliable."
So far, the government has issued nearly three million TWICs, and after five years, many are up for renewal.
"They're already reissuing cards that do not work," said Mica. "Now we've got an expensive flash badge -- costly to the government, costly for transportation workers, and useless as far as security."
The House has passed a reform bill. It orders another assessment of the TWIC program, and a corrective action plan. It also says this must be carried out with no additional funding.