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Not Enough Port Workers Have TWIC Cards, Prompting Fears of Port Slowdown

03/19/2009 -Not enough port workers across the United States have signed onto the federal government's beleaguered and controversial port identification card program, prompting fears that trade will suffer as workers are denied entry to secure areas.

Previously, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) delayed and staggered implementation of TWIC to make it easier on ports and their workers to receive the card, but April 15 is the deadline for complete compliance and hundreds of thousands of workers at the nation's biggest ports do not have the card.

According to Agence France Presse:

With less than a month to the deadline, an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 workers who need access to secure areas have yet to undergo screening.

The process includes checks on employees' criminal records, immigration status and terrorist watch-list screening, costing 132 dollars per person.

According to Aaron Ellis of the American Association of Port Authorities, New York and New Jersey, Houston, Los Angeles and Long Beach are among the ports struggling to get staff through in time for the deadline.

Together they handle over half a billion tons of cargo each year and include America's second and third biggest ports by cargo volume.

Certain workers are vital to keeping commerce going at U.S. ports and therefore should have the card. For example, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California, 70 to 90 percent of truck drivers are estimated to have the TWIC while the percentage of longshoremen, who operate essential equipment like cranes, with the card is said to be much lower, according to AFP.

With just a month until deadline, 60,000 workers at the two ports need to be vetted and issued cards, creating fears that there will not be enough workers to load and unload cargo. Only about 30,000 workers currently carry active TWIC cards, prompting fears of a work slowdown.

"We still have some concerns that not enough people have applied," Art Wong, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, told AFP. He added that "nothing is going to move inside the terminal without longshoremen."

That could be devastating to U.S. commerce. The West Coast port strike of 2002 is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy a billion dollars a day.

TSA, however, says 36 out of 42 port zones are now TWIC compliant and that it is surging resources to ensure every port and its workers are compliant by the deadline.

Greg Soule, a spokesman for TSA, told Security Management that TSA has enrolled 54,000 workers at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and that TSA has "the resources in place to continue enrolling a high volume of workers in preparation for compliance next month."

Activation, however, is the most critical step in the process, Soule said.

Workers can expect a phone call or e-mail within 10-15 business days after enrolling in TWIC asking them to pick up their cards, choose a pin number, and embed their biometrics on the card.

The fears that not enough workers would enroll in the TWIC program have been longstanding. In November, Marc MacDonald of the Pacific Maritime Association--which represents 71 cargo carriers, terminal operators, and stevedores--told Security Managementthat low enrollment by the April deadline would bring commerce on the West Coast to a grinding halt.

TWIC was established by theMaritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 and theSAFE Port Act of 2006, which together mandated that workers carry biometric identification cards to access secure port facilities.