Budget crunch doesn't keep TSA from playing its cards

Budget crunch doesn't keep TSA from playing its cards

The Transportation Security Administration is moving ahead with a smart-card pilot for employees and a passenger-screening project despite a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

For fiscal 2004, the agency expects to receive $500 million less than it requested in the proposal it sent to the Office of Management and Budget, CIO Patrick Schambach said. In the budget he sent to Congress, President Bush earmarked $4.81 billion for TSA.

But officials said the budget crunch won't delay rollout of the Transit Worker Identification Credential, a smart card for physical and network entry at several transportation nodes across an entire region, including ports, railways and airports.

The agency could issue a request for proposals for smart-card technologies as early as this month.

'That's still going to go forward,' Schambach said, acknowledging that the agency must still sort out the funding gap.

TSA also is going ahead with its Called Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II, for which Lockheed Martin Corp. will develop the IT infrastructure under a five-year, $12.8 million task order.

TWIC, an ambitious attempt to standardize logistics for credentialing employees across transportation hubs, has hit holdups, partly because Congress felt it outreached realistic expectations.

Both houses held back funding for TWIC last year, pointing out that while such pilots were necessary, TWIC had many programming uncertainties and demanded more industry involvement than usual. The Senate Appropriations Committee suggested TSA establish a task force with industry representatives to develop a credentialing system.

The House Appropriations Subcommitee on Transportation and Related Agencies called the idea of assigning single-card access to hundreds of workers at dozens of entry points 'so grandiose as to be infeasible and unworkable.' Even with a hand from the private sector, the committee wrote, 'it is unlikely that consensus across all the affected industries could be reached.'

But TSA leaders argued that turning their backs on TWIC could put daily routines into more disarray as work builds up.

'We have a trucker who has paid for 23 separate background investigations to enable him to have 23 separate credentials to get from Point A to Point B to Point C,' said Adm. James M. Loy, undersecretary of Transportation for security, speaking at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in late January.

'We have an endless list of people associated with the transportation sector in these hubs that we need to have confidence in, allowing them unescorted access into certain corners of the transportation system,' Loy said.

TWIC's implications could stretch to international borders and policies, he said: 'If we can set the bar high for what the credentialing package ought to be, we should be doing that.'

Loy also highlighted CAPPS II, a congressionally authorized on-site automated system that would activate with each passenger airline reservation and check personal information against updated watch lists and threat data before a passenger boards a plane. It would transfer screening responsibility from the airlines to TSA.

Loy said that tradeoff won't put passengers' private information at risk'a concern he called understandable. Under CAPPS II, airlines can only ask for a passenger's full name, address, phone number and birth date when reserving tickets.

The new automated screening process replaces its predecessor, CAPPS, which Loy called inadequate. CAPPS II 'will gain much greater comfort with the process by which we select those few people for additional scrutiny before we allow them on an aircraft.'

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