Aug. 30--The Transportation Security Administration is delaying a key component of a new system of identification cards intended to tighten security at the port of Hampton Roads and other ports across the country.
The postponement, which many in the maritime industry had requested, is the latest setback for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program. It was authorized by Congress in 2002 and was to have been rolled out in 2004.
Officials "have concluded that facility and vessel owners and operators will not be required to purchase or install card readers during the first phase of the TWIC implementation," said a notice published Aug. 21 in the Federal Register, the publication listing federal notices and proposed rules.
"Additionally, a requirement to purchase and install card readers will not be implemented until the public is afforded further opportunity to comment on that aspect of the... program."
The cards, which will feature fingerprint identification, are expected to be issued to roughly 16,000 workers requiring unescorted access to the port of Hampton Roads, such as longshoremen, port employees and truck drivers. An estimated 750,000 workers across the country will carry the high-tech identification.
Delaying the installation of the devices intended to read the cards and verify their authenticity came after many in the maritime industry complained to the agency that the proposed technology had not been fully tested and was unlikely to hold up in the harsh marine environment. Should the equipment not work as performed, many feared major back ups at ports.
"There's a balance to be struck here between having the entire program implemented in one phase and the potential of the card readers creating such a problem that it... slows down the movement of cargo," said Aaron E. Ellis, spokesman for the American Association of Port Authorities, which backs the delay.
Ed Merkle, security director for the Virginia Port Authority, said he is "disappointed" that it has been nearly five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the port worker credentials system is still not up and running. However, he said he was supportive of the delay because the right technology needs to be in place.
"You cannot roll something out in a marine transportation environment without making sure it works near 100 percent," he said.
No timetable has been set as to when the card readers might now be installed, TSA spokesman Darrin Kayser said. Before that can occur, technological and logistical issues with the readers need to be resolved, he said.
Details as to when the public will have additional opportunities to comment on the TWIC program will be outlined in an updated version of the TWIC rule, which Kayser said will be released "soon."
-- Reach Gregory Richards at (757) 446-2599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.