Sources: TWIC flaws could endanger program

The government's plan for secure transportation worker identity cards could founder as a result of penny-pinching in the card production process, sources said.

In initial tests, cards for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program have experienced high failure rates and long processing times, sources close to the program said.

This disclosure comes as the Transportation Security Administration plans to award a $70 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to produce cards for and run TWIC.

Industry sources said Lockheed's price is considered low compared to federal estimates, which were between $100 million to $110 million for the job.

'To come in 10 percent below the government's estimate is reasonable. To come in 20 percent below is passable. But to come in 30 percent less is ridiculous,' an industry source said. 'It appears that it may be a classic case of 'bait and switch' [pricing].'

The long-delayed TWIC project is intended to furnish smart cards to workers at ports and similar transportation hubs to close off access to the strategic zones by terrorists.

Industry sources said the contract announcement likely will occur tomorrow. Lockheed Martin did not offer comments immediately about the award and referred all questions to TSA.

But even amid the potential price concerns, multiple sources confirmed that the TWIC's design could be flawed. Sources said it could provide an open door for counterfeiters to provide bogus credentials that could be used to obtain authentic state driver's licenses.

Several sources close to the TWIC program said that the government plans to allow the use of cards that likely will fail at a rate of 25 percent to 50 percent. The cards also can take very long to read, on the order of 9 minutes, multiple sources said.

A key factor in the problem is the type of card stock used to make the cards, sources close to the process said. Because of the low quality of the card stock and the fact that the chips on the cards are 'virtually painted on,' the cards fail easily, one source said. When they fail, the cards become 'flash passes' that permit easy entry to supposedly secure facilities, the sources said.

Other problems with the TWIC card technology and program include:
  • The low number of authentication features on the cards'fewer than a dozen'of which only five are hard to duplicate, will make them easy targets for counterfeiters.
  • The card program does not distinguish between high-level federal contractors, such as those with top-secret clearances, and casual laborers who work at ports.
  • The TWIC procedures do not distinguish between cards issued in this country and those issued overseas.

'The TWIC card is a godsend to visa overstays and illegal aliens,' one source said. 'The likelihood of having the TWIC card scanned is very low.'

TSA issued a statement emphasizing the importance of securing the nation's ports and transportation facilities. The statement added that TSA expects to announce the winner of the TWIC contract soon, and declined to elaborate on the technical issues.

Because the TWIC card verification process relies on telecommunications connections with databases, the card itself, sometimes referred to as a token, does not contain biometric information that would link the bearer to the card. Accordingly, 'a thunderstorm in the southeast could bring down the TWIC [card verification] process,' one source said.

Lockheed Martin's supposed winning bid of $70 million came in far below the $87 million proposal bid of rival BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., for example, sources said.

Lockheed is running its TWIC project through its Transportation Security Solutions unit, which has its headquarters in Rockville, Md.


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