Q&A with TSA on TWIC program

Following the TWIC deadline of April 15, 2009, SecurityInfoWatch.com caught up with Greg Soule, spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, in regards to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. As far as ID projects go, this is big. The TWIC card is expected to be carried by over 1 million workers across the U.S. and in some U.S. territories. The goal, ostensibly, is to make sure that no known terrorist radicals are accessing U.S. ports for nefarious purposes. Soule explains more about this program:

SIW: What were the requirements of the April 15, 2009 TWIC deadline? What did workers and facilities need to do for that date?

Soule/TSA: As of April 15, the U.S. Coast Guard began ensuring port workers and mariners nationwide have a new security biometric card known as a TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). Having a TWIC in hand means the holder received a thorough background check, and is now allowed unescorted access to secure areas of ports and vessels. The card must be presented at the more than 3,200 U.S. maritime facilities and 10,000 vessels from Maine to Guam to gain access. It is a huge win for security to know the folks working at our nation’s ports are not known terrorist threats.

How many workers are now enrolled in TWIC?

More than 1.1 million workers at our nation’s ports have enrolled to date and thousands more are processed each week. The TWIC program has progressed steadily and has more than 150 fixed enrollment centers and has deployed nearly 500 mobile teams nationwide.

Can you estimate roughly what percentage of total workers who should have the card now actually have the card?

We have estimated that 1.2 million workers will need a TWIC card to work in secure areas but there are factors affecting that estimate. The TWIC population is highly mobile and numbers can be affected by many factors including seasonal workers as well as the economy.

Are ports using the TWIC card as more than a flash pass?

At this time, all ports are required to visually inspect TWIC cards as a minimum requirement. Some ports have installed new readers and some have adjusted their legacy systems to electronically enforce the program.

What is being done in terms of tying the TWIC card system into legacy physical access control systems installed in many of our port environments?

TWIC card technology was designed with a lot of flexibility. Some ports have adjusted their legacy systems to be able to read TWICs.

What does the card cost to users?

A TWIC costs $132.50 and is good for five years. Truckers with a valid Hazardous Materials Endorsement (HME) issued after May 31, 2005 or a valid Free and Secure Trade (FAST) card may pay a reduced fee of $105.25 and their TWIC will be good until that credential expires.

It seems that the nation as a whole understands that security does need to be heightened at major ports like Los Angeles, Long Beach, etc., but there has been repeated criticism that this process is too onerous for small operators like ferry operators and others who don’t think their operations pose a security threat. How does your office respond to those complaints?

Congress mandated TSA create a national maritime worker biometric program through the Safe Ports Act. TWIC satisfied the Congressional mandate and added an important layer of maritime security. TWIC is designed to be a sophisticated, interoperable biometric ID that can be used at maritime faculties and vessels nationwide. Now instead of security guards examining more than 500 different driver’s licenses and hundreds of other port IDs, there is one uniform card accepted to gain access. TWIC uses advanced technology to embed a template of the owner’s fingerprints as well as a host of other security features that make it nearly impossible to fake.

Can you update us on where reader pilot projects stand and the timeline for these projects?

TSA collected card reader proposals from vendors and published an approved list of readers for our pilot ports to choose from in fall 2008.

Pilot participants will be located at four port authorities and three vessel operators, including the Port Authorities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York and New Jersey, Brownsville, Magnolia Marine in Mississippi, Watermark Cruises in Annapolis, and the Staten Island Ferry. Brownsville has already installed and begun testing readers. The pilot will continue until we have enough data to provide to Coast Guard for them to issue a Final Reader Regulation to industry.

Where does the program stand on readers? When can facilities expect an approved readers list or is too early to determine?

TWICs are designed to be read by a card reader. TWIC card readers have gone through initial lab testing and approved equipment will be tested further in severe port environments (extreme heat, cold, wind, salt water, etc). Readers are not mandatory yet because TSA listened and responded to industry concerns about cost and the need to test readers at port facilities and on vessels to ensure durability and functionality. We have worked closely with industry every step of the way to maximize security and minimize the effect on commerce At this time, some ports have already installed new readers and more will be soon. The pilot program will test readers further in severe port environments (extreme heat, cold, wind, salt water, etc). The data we collect from the pilot will provide valuable information concerning the viability and durability of the card readers.

Editor's note: Look for more soon on the TWIC topic as we speak to a leading vendor about the challenges on the technical side of cards.