TWIC pilot falls short in security, technology testing: GAO

A test of the Homeland Security Department's secure identification card to be distributed to port workers across the country revealed major gaps, with significantly fewer workers enrolled in the pilot and few facilities using major components, such as the biometric card reader.

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Program aims to ensure that only workers that do not pose a terrorist threat are allowed to enter secure areas of transportation facilities. The TWIC program has received $90 million in funding for program development and testing.

Despite the problems with the pilot, the Transportation Security Administration recently announced that it had chosen eight companies to compete for the next phase of the TWIC program.

But TSA will find it a challenge to ensure that the access control technology required for operating the TWIC program, such as biometric card readers, works effectively in the maritime sector, the Government Accountability said in its report released today. TSA obtained limited information on the operational effectiveness of biometric readers, particularly when individuals use them outdoors in the harsh maritime environment, GAO said.

The assessment of the pilot found that 25 percent of the operational and performance requirements in the testing contract were not met, such as the requirement that lost or stolen TWIC card be revoked before a transportation worker is issued a replacement.

'The independent contractor's assessment characterized the failure to meet this specific requirement as a critical problem because a terrorist could potentially use the lost or stolen card to attempt to gain access to secure areas of transportation facilities,' the report said.

Additionally, most facilities lacked the technology to connect with TSA's national TWIC database to obtain current information on those workers already issued TWIC cards who have subsequently been identified as a potential threat to security or whose cards have been lost or stolen.

TSA enrolled just 1,700 workers, instead of the planned 75,000 for the test, at a total of 28 port, airport, rail, maritime exchange, truck stop and U.S. Postal Service facilities, according to GAO. TSA experienced a lack of volunteers and technical difficulties in enrolling workers, leading to a small testing population, which will make it problematic for TSA to scale up to enrolling and issuing cards to 750,000 workers at 3,500 facilities.

Although TSA acknowledged challenges to its implementing the TWIC program, it plans no further testing.

TSA recently decided to implement TWIC using two separate rules, one for enrolling workers and issuing cards and the second for implementing TWIC access control technologies, such as biometric card readers. DHS plans to finalize the first rule covering enrollment and background checks of workers and issuing the cards by Dec. 31.

TSA has hired more staff with program management and technical experience to assist in developing contract requirements and providing oversight. GAO also recommended that TSA develop and test solutions to the problems revealed during the pilot and strengthen contract planning and oversight before awarding the contract.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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