TWIC Offers Chance to Lower Background-Check Pains

After years of discussion, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the US Coast Guard finally issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in late May for the long-anticipated Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC). This could have a positive impact on the trucking industry, especially carriers hauling hazardous materials.

As currently written, the proposed rule would cover all individuals with unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act. This includes longshoremen, port operator employees, storage terminal workers, truck drivers, and rail workers. US merchant mariners are among those who would have to obtain a TWIC.

Here are some of the other key points of the proposed rule: TSA would collect worker biographic information, including 10 fingerprints, name, date of birth, address and phone number, alien registration number (if applicable), photo, employer, and job title. Background checks would include a review of criminal history records, terrorist watch lists, immigration status, and outstanding wants and warrants.

The TWIC would utilize Smart Card technology and include a worker's photo, name, biometric information, and multiple fraud protection measures. Port facilities and vessels would have to implement TWIC into their existing access control systems and operations, would have to purchase and use card readers, and would have to update their approved security plans.

As currently structured, the program would cover 750,000 individuals and would be funded by user fees (estimated at $139 per person). Workers who already have qualified background checks would pay approximately $105 for the TWIC, which would be valid for five years. Implementation costs are projected at $8,900 to $11,900 per facility or vessel.

One of the promising aspects of the TWIC program is the opportunity it provides for TSA to structure a more rational process of security related background-check requirements for all transportation workers. Currently, the transportation industry faces a multitude of overlapping background check requirements from the public and private sectors.

When the TWIC proposed rule was announced, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) wasted no time in repeating its call for TSA to implement a single, coordinated, cost-effective method for screening transportation workers that would enhance national security while minimizing unnecessary screening costs and procedures.

ATA added that recent years have brought a proliferation of background check programs that require applicants to appear at different enrollment facilities, adapt to different administrative procedures, and pay multiple user fees. Industries have imposed their own background check programs. One example is the RailSafe program that applies to any worker with access to a rail facility.

TSA should use the TWIC to consolidate the current multitude of federally mandated background-check programs into a single system that grants access to all aspects of the transportation supply chain. Further, TSA should prevent states and industry sectors from requiring additional security checks or credentials.

Turning to hazardous materials transportation in particular, TSA should take steps to remove the background check requirements from the current hazmat endorsements that truck drivers must obtain. These drivers would simply obtain a TWIC, which would be recognized by all 50 states. The driver wouldn't have to repeat the background check process if he moves to another state as is currently the case in many states.