GCN Special Report: Security ID card deployment faces choppy waters

One of the largest Homeland Security projects, the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, would issue cards to roughly 12 million workers employed in every facet of transportation'including air, sea, rail, trucking, mass transit and busing. As many as half of these workers are in some fashion involved in the maritime industry.

The program would require each of these workers to undergo a background check. Qualified workers would then be issued a smart card with biometric information that would verify their identity and grant access to their facilities.

The program, however, has hit a series of snags.

Inititiated as part of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, TWIC was originally to be implemented by the Transportation Security Administration'rather than Customs or the Coast Guard'for about 6 million maritime workers by August 2004. It didn't happen.

A significant part of the initial delay arose because TSA had not decided who would pay for different aspects of the program. Development was further delayed by a DHS decision to require cost-benefit analysis for alternative approaches and by a congressional oversight committee's requirement to include a range of technologies in the prototype stage, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in December 2004 (www.gcn.com, GCN.com/no. 460).

TSA eventually awarded a contract to conduct pilot programs and make recommendations on the structure of national implementation to BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., in August 2004. Three port complexes participated in the pilot stage, which concluded in June.

'The prototype phase of the program is complete, and TSA now has the data necessary to develop a crucial piece of our multilayered system of security,' said TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark.

Another TSA official, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that the financial issue may have been settled, at least in the short run, by the fiscal 2005 budget, which included a provision giving TSA authority to charge for the cost of conducting background checks. But the ports themselves will still have to foot the bill for any physical infrastructure improvements, plus the cost of the cards, the readers and the programming equipment. That is likely to delay TWIC's rollout further.

'Ports don't want to get stuck with the cost of a system that they view as a nationally mandated program,' said John Hensley, a vice president at Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego and a former commissioner for enforcement and operations at Customs and Border Protection.

Aaron Ellis, a spokesman for the American Association of Port Authorities, was more blunt: 'We want to make sure the government is funding its mandates.'

On a practical basis, BearingPoint executives found widely varying security conditions at their pilot sites, which initially hampered TWIC.

'There are some ports that don't have much, if any, infrastructure in place to really verify automated credentials, or a system in place to control access to various locations,' said Gordon Hannah, managing director and technology lead on TWIC for the integrator.

TSA slowed implementation in order to establish standards, so that when the rollout goes national, it won't be delayed by technical and interoperability issues, Hannah said. On the other hand, he said, the ports have been 'extremely supportive' of TWIC, and of TSA providing the services to administer it.

The TSA executive said that the TWIC document would be a biometric card that can hold up to 10 fingerprints. It also will incorporate a photo, bar code and magnetic strip (the latter two to accommodate legacy systems). Among the goals of the program is to complete enrollment of a worker'entering the consent form, confirming identification documents, taking a full set of 10 fingerprints, capturing a high-quality photo of the applicant'in less than 10 minutes, Hannah said.

TSA announced last week that it would release a request for proposals, possibly today, for program support for conducting the background checks and risk assessemnts spelled out for TWIC, Registered Travelers, Alien Flight Students and Aviation and other programs.

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