TSA pushes forward with worker ID plan

DHS releases solicitation, asks to move $15 million for program

We are moving at a forced march now and we will not let up.'

' Michael Jackson, DHS deputy secretary, on the department's pace of TWIC deployment

Rick Steele

The Transportation Security Administration has supercharged its project to vet port workers and give them secure credentials, amid congressional scrutiny and public criticism of the lagging program.

Homeland Security Department deputy secretary Michael P. Jackson told skeptical senators last week that TSA is launching two rulemakings and a procurement for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.

Moving at a faster pace

'We are moving at a forced march now and we will not let up,' Jackson said during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He said the program would make more progress in the next six months than the program has gained over the past year.

TSA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking earlier this month and plans to soon release a request for proposals for a systems integrator for TWIC. Jackson also said DHS would ask Congress for permission to reprogram $15 million to be used to get TWIC moving faster.

During the hearing, committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), ranking minority member Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) formed a critical audience, citing TWIC's history of cost overruns, schedule delays and dissonance between the TWIC program and other credential projects, such as one for permits for hazardous-material-truck drivers.

Lawmakers and private-sector witnesses agreed that turnover in TWIC leadership has slowed the project as well.

'We will outsource a substantial amount of this [TWIC] work,' Jackson said. 'The procurement will allow us to get a single integrator for the capture of biometric information [that will be passed on to TSA for clearance].'

The decision to issue the RFP, which at press time had not been released, came after biometric-industry leaders and systems integrators condemned a sole-source procurement plan.

Jackson indirectly alluded to a controversy over language in the fiscal 2006 DHS appropriations law that directed DHS to award a contract for TWIC data management services to a unit of the American Association of Airport Executives of Alexandria, Va.

In late April, TSA had said it planned to issue a sole-source contract to AAAE for TWIC enrollment work, prompting an outcry by biometric-industry vendors.

They and others criticized the close relationship between AAAE and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, who had sponsored the provision but reversed his position in a recent statement.

Subsequently, TSA abandoned the sole-source procurement plan and opted for full and open competition.

The TWIC contract would cover about 750,000 port workers. The program likely will encompass about 10 million transportation workers and cost about $1.2 billion, which will be defrayed by fees for the cards.

But Rep. Rogers' fingerprints remain on the program. Jackson said that DHS planned to purchase additional equipment for a TSA card manufacturing facility in Corbin, Ky., to handle the burden of producing the cards. The small town is in Rogers' home district.

Joint rule-making

TSA and the Coast Guard jointly developed a TWIC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that they submitted to the Federal Register on May 10. On a parallel track, the Coast Guard submitted a rule establishing a new Merchant Mariner Card that would consolidate existing credentials.

DHS plans to begin issuing TWIC cards by the end of the year, Jackson said. The department will deploy TWIC card readers at port facilities later, he added.

'We are working to create a common area for appeals, if there is a question, concern or problem,' Jackson said, referring to DHS' multiplying array of programs that require background checks.

Those programs include TWIC, the Registered Traveler program and several programs that grant border crossing cards. The central facility also could handle appeals of approval for the administration's proposed guest worker program, Jackson said.

From a technical perspective, Jackson said DHS planned to harmonize TWIC cards with the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 credentials that federal employees and contractors soon will be required to carry and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Federal Information Processing Standard 201-1 for identity documents.

About the Authors

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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