TSA struggles with maritime smart-card program

TSA struggles with maritime smart-card program

The Transportation Security Administration has fallen behind in setting up an identification card program for maritime workers'in part because the agency has made no decision about who will pay for the program, the General Accountability Office says.

TSA officials had problems gaining approval from the Homeland Security Department to proceed with prototype testing, GAO concluded in a new report. DHS officials attribute the delay to 'competition for executive-level attention and agency resources' when the new department began its consolidation efforts 18 months ago.

The agency originally had wanted to issue ID cards in August 2004 to some 6 million maritime industry workers as part of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program. DHS wants the TWIC cards to serve as universally recognized IDs, accepted across all modes within the transportation industry.

To save money, the initial planning by TSA also called for a partnership between federal and state and local governments with the federal government providing biometric cards and a database to confirm workers' identities, and local organizations the equipment to read the credentials and to control access to secure areas. But DHS asked TSA to explore the cost-effectiveness of other approaches.

Homeland Security required that TSA also consider two other approaches: one with the federal government designing, financing and managing the entire credential program and the other a decentralized approach requiring ports and port facilities to design, finance and manage their own programs.

Either way, the federal government would set standards for technical performance and interoperability across transportation modes.

Another delay factor, GAO found, was Congress. Various congressional oversight committees directed TSA to also assess different card technologies.

Finally, there's a future hurdle 'that holds potential to adversely affect the entire program,' the report noted. 'TSA does not yet have a comprehensive plan in place for managing the project.'

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