Baker: Despite Struggles, TWIC Program Will Work

Though the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) plan to provide biometric smart cards to port workers has experienced delays, progress is being made, the assistant secretary for policy told lawmakers recently.

That includes the start of enrollment of employees yesterday at the Port of Wilmington in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).

Noting that the program has been behind schedule by "some months," Stewart Baker told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that TWIC could be the most sophisticated biometric card of its kind and development has not always been smooth.

"In a few cases we pioneered the Beta videotape system," Baker said, referring to the technology made obsolete in the 1980s by the Video Home System.

The program's big hurdle has been creating the technology that reads workers' cards.

Until reader technology is in place, the TWIC cards will serve as typical flash passes for workers, longshoremen and others to get around ports. However, Coast Guard personnel will occasionally use handheld readers to conduct spot checks on workers to validate their TWIC cards (Defense Daily, Oct. 9).

After Wilmington, the department will soon move on to 11 different ports.

"While it has unfortunately proved impossible to meet every SAFE Port Act deadline for TWIC, I am confident that the hard work and time the department is putting into technology and requirements development, incorporating congressional and industry input, and developing a careful deployment approach will result in a stronger, healthier and more efficient TWIC program that will protect our country's ports into the future," Baker said in his written testimony.

As TWIC cards proliferate across the nation's ports, more kinks in the system may have to be ironed out. For instance, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) asked about the practicality of requiring the operators of small boats who hire seasonal workers to participate.

The committee hearing sought to look at progress made in the year since the passage of the SAFE Port Act.

As such, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I/D-Conn.), the chairman of the committee, asked about the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office's plans to test next-generation radiation portal monitoring technology.

Baker could not say exactly when DHS will report to Congress on the status of those tests.

Lieberman said once the data is in, the Government Accountability Office can review it.

Earlier this fall, GAO recommended holding up certification of the Advanced Spectroscopic Portals (ASPs), saying DNDO "biased" the tests (Defense Daily, Sept. 19).