WJ Editorial

TWIC: Finally, An Assessment

On August 2, President Trump signed the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Accountability Act into law. The bill puts on hold a Coast Guard rule that was set to kick in August 23 requiring the use of biometric readers for TWICs at maritime facilities for all risk types, including some barge fleeting facilities. That rule is now delayed. The delay requires and allows the Coast Guard to submit to Congress a detailed assessment of the TWIC program’s effectiveness.

Just a few weeks earlier, the Coast Guard itself had proposed a three-year implementation delay of the TWIC reader rule for certain facilities, including barge fleeting facilities, to address industry concerns about the rule’s applicability. The Coast Guard was responding to a July 24 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that delayed the TWIC Reader Final Rule implementation at certain dangerous cargo transfer and non-transfer facilities until further orders of the court, in response to a lawsuit brought by industry groups.

The TWIC program was launched in 2007 as part of a set of post-9/11 proposals in a 2002 law to tighten security on vessels and at port facilities. It was supposed to ensure that only authorized personnel had unescorted access to vessels, ports, docks, terminals and other sensitive marine areas.

It didn’t take long for the program to become loathed by maritime workers. Obtaining a card imposed many burdensome costs beyond the fee itself (now set at $125) for a credential that one congressional critic blasted as little more useful than a library card.  At first, getting a TWIC took two separate visits. The American Waterways Operators and other maritime advocacy groups lobbied for a “one-visit” policy change, finally announced in 2014.

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Many remain skeptical that the card provides greater security or safety. In the early years, stories circulated of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials not recognizing the TWIC as a valid form of identification, even though the TSA itself was the issuing body.

From the start, the program was plagued by delays, technical issues and staggering cost overruns. An advanced chip was supposed to store biometric data on the card-holder, but companies took years and billions of dollars to develop the readers. Their efforts were complicated by uncertainty about the requirements for the readers, which added to development costs. Card readers are only now coming into compliance.

A 2013 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Homeland Security “did not correct planning shortfalls that GAO identified in November 2009.…these weaknesses presented a challenge in ensuring that the pilot would yield information needed to inform Congress and…[define] how TWICs are to be used with biometric card readers (card reader rule).”

 The regulatory analysis of the TWIC reader estimates an annual cost to industry (in 2016 dollars) of $23.2 million, with a total 10-year cost of $153.7 million.

The goal of enhanced port and vessel security remains a good one. Requiring the Coast Guard to further assess the costs and benefits of the TWIC program won’t hurt port security and could aid in the task of lowering expectations about what TWICs can and can’t do, and where they fit in.