PALMETTO, Fla. - The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice has discovered new lapses in port security. Inspectors found federal law enforcement agents did not understand how a port-security credential program known as TWIC works, and credentials were issued to known or suspected terrorists on the no-fly list.
Meanwhile, U.S. Congress is demanding a full review of the federal security cards it ordered for use at ports across the nation. Lawmakers have concerns about the growing costs and effectiveness of the TWIC program it created to improve port security after the September 11th attacks.
LINK: Read the IG report (PDF)
Congress ordered the development of ‘Transportation Worker Identification Credentials,’ or ‘TWIC,’ cards as a component of a broader security plan in 2002.
It requires truckers and others to obtain and use biometric cards to go through our ports without an escort. The cards are encoded with fingerprint data and more to match the person to the card.
But federal lawmakers directed Homeland Security to determine the rules and standards for reading the cards, and that’s where critics like former U.S. Rep John Mica say the program failed. Guidelines to determine how the cards should be scanned and read have still not been released. Congress put those efforts on hold last year, as they await a full review of the TWIC program, to determine its effectiveness.
“Well it is very sad. It is government at its worst,” said Mica. “We spent 15 years trying to develop a system with a card we’ve described as ‘Mickey Mouse’ and it does put us at risk.”
The TWIC program was saddled with delays, controversy, and criticism from the start. Years ago, federal inspectors discovered the cards could be forged. Public records show illegal immigrants received cards. Then after 10 years of development, the pilot program to read the cards failed government tests.
Government projections noted the costs of the program -- to both the federal government and private sector -- could exceed $3-billion. The GAO noted official card readers could add additional costs.
Another audit last fall found more lapses in oversight, while truck drivers who depend on port cargo pay more than $100 to receive a card.
“It has been delayed because there are still a number of questions on the viability of the TWIC program overall,” said David St. Pierre, who leads security at Port Manatee.
With no federal standards in place on how to read the cards, St. Pierre and his team took a best guess, and ordered readers that do work -- when the cards function properly.
“The minuses are the TWIC card still has a pretty high failure rate,” he said, adding the cards are fragile and can break when exposed to direct sunlight or placed in a user’s pocket or wallet.
"Most ports, because of the failure rate of the TWIC card, take the TWIC card as an originating document and then issue their own credentials independently,” he added.
The federal government redesigned the TWIC cards to enhance the security and prevent counterfeiting. Congress is expecting the top-to-bottom review of the program to be delivered in June.