TWIC program hits another snag

Criticism holds up deployment of card readers for transportation worker IDs

AT A GLANCE: TWIC's security issues

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general, Richard Skinner, recently highlighted security flaws in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.

The IG released a redacted version of the report, DHS Must Address Significant Security Vulnerabilities Prior To TWIC Implementation [GCN.com, GCN.com/677].
The auditors left extensive blank spaces that obviously describe many TWIC security flaws.

However, the report did note some specific items:

  • TWIC program rules should assign specific duties to individuals with access to TWIC information.

  • TWIC does not include a procedure for periodic reviews to assure that recipients haven't been placed on a 'hot list' after receiving the clearance.

  • TWIC prototype testing did not involve FBI criminal background checks.

  • The program lacks a records retention policy. The program's Privacy Impact Assessment does not include a plan for administrative, technical and physical control of TWIC records.

  • The plan of action and milestones is incomplete, and contingency plans haven't been approved or tested.

  • System and database administrators haven't received proper security awareness training.

  • The Transportation Security Administration's response to the report implied that the auditors had found problems with default security settings and patch management.

  • The auditors recommended that TWIC program officials work closely with security specialists so they fully understand how severe the security risks are and how to marshal the funds and resources to fix them.

    TWIC program officials agreed with the report's conclusions and described their plans to adopt them.

    The Homeland Security Department's snakebit program to issue secure credentials to workers at ports, airports and other transportation hubs has hit two new speed bumps, despite making progress in choosing a systems integrator.

    The Transportation Worker Identification Credential program faces a delay of one of its most important security requirements: a mandate that facility and vessel owners install card readers in its first phase.

    In addition, the program's systems security has come under fire from the department's inspector general.

    The Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard announced the card reader installation delay in a Federal Register notice late last month. Both are DHS agencies.

    TWIC is many months behind schedule. DHS deputy secretary Michael Jackson promised during a Senate hearing in May that TSA and the Coast Guard would jump-start the troubled program. But program delays and push back from federal, state, local and international agencies, as well as from private industry, have called key decisions into question.

    A critical issue is the availability and rollout schedule for card readers at ports.

    TSA spokesman Darrin Kay- ser said the agency has not decided on a specific date when card readers must be implemented, but 'we will be working with facility owners and operators so we can get the reader technology and access control completed.'

    Kayser said TSA already has completed checking the names of about 400,000 longshoremen, truckers, and other port and transportation workers against terrorist databases, and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

    The agency plans to issue a final rule that will describe the biometric features of the TWIC cards, he added. TSA has been relying mainly on 10-digit fingerprint images in the pilots it has conducted so far.

    TSA has made some progress in getting a systems integrator on board. The agency announced last week in a notice on FedBizOpps.gov that it had chosen eight companies to compete for the next phase of the TWIC program. The companies are: BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., Computer Sciences Corp., EDS Corp., IBM Corp., Integrated Biometric Technology of Nashville, Tenn., Lockheed Martin Corp., Maximus Inc. of Reston, Va., and Motorola Inc.

    TSA issued requests for proposals to the eight companies on Sept 1. According to the notice, the companies' proposals are due Oct. 2. According to Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va., the winning contractor would collect up to $1.2 billion in fees from workers who receive the card.

    The companies will compete to provide enrollment and help desk services to the workers who receive the credentials. Those employees, in turn, will reimburse the vendors for their cards.

    The most recent Federal Register notice responded to dozens of requests for extension of the comment period on the TWIC notice of proposed rulemaking.

    TSA and the Coast Guard denied those requests.

    The notice did include the text of a letter to several members of Congress who had requested comment period extensions and added requests for substantive changes in the draft rules.

    DHS said that 'facility and vessel owners and operators will not be required to purchase or install card readers during the first phase of TWIC implementation.'

    The notice said DHS would delay the card reader requirement until the public receives an additional opportunity to comment on the matter.

    The rulemaking proposal attracted critical comments from the Navy, Interior and Agriculture departments; Florida transportation and law enforcement agencies; the European Commission; and five members of Congress.

    In addition, more than 100 trade associations, companies and private citizens filed comments. Many of the comments warned of grave problems with TWIC's policies and technology.

    For example, the International Biometric Industry Association warned that contact readers at seaports and on ships could collect dirt, dust and moisture that would damage the readers or the cards.

    The removal of the card reader requirement does not eliminate TWIC's security benefit altogether. Workers still could be required to use the cards as a 'flash pass' in the program's first phase. They also would have to receive a clearance'according to disputed procedures'to get the credential.

    Objecting to costs

    The Navy's Military Sealift Command also objected to the card's cost and said the Pentagon's Common Access Cards should fulfill TWIC requirements. The command has almost 7,000 military and civilian personnel.

    The TWIC program is expected to cover as many as 750,000 port and transportation workers in its early stages. It may later be extended to millions.

    James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, found fault with the underlying TWIC approach.

    'They have at least eight different programs to provide ID documents for people at the edge of the U.S.,' Lewis said. 'Why have we not found a consolidated program? I thought the idea in setting up a single homeland security department is [that] you would get some integration.'

    Lewis noted that other DHS credentialing programs had faced technical problems and been delayed as well, including the Mexican Laser Visa program and the People Access Security Service cards.

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