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TWIC Compliance Starts Today; Critics Angry Card Readers Not Deployed

04/15/2009 -Today marks the national compliance deadline when all workers and mariners needing access to secure maritime and port areas nationwide will have to at least flash a government-approved biometric identification card before entry.

But as USA Today reports, some lawmakers and unions are unhappy that the cards that port workers and mariners had to buy will not be verified by card readers to ensure they are legitimate.

A six-year, $250 million anti-terrorism effort to secure the nation's ports is delayed for at least two more years because the government lacks machines to read fingerprint ID cards issued to more than 1 million workers.

Truckers, deckhands and others requiring access to secure areas at ports paid $132 apiece for the high-tech ID cards that have their fingerprints embedded in them. But the Homeland Security Department, which is overseeing the program, says it still lacks fingerprint readers that can be used reliably in harsh weather.

The original intent of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), however, was to roll out cards and card readers together. After listening to industry concerns, TSA made the decision to stagger the implementation to make it easier on industry.

Unions aren't happy that their members had to pay such a hefty price for such a technologically sophisticated card that cannot be verified.

Chuck Mack of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters told USA Today, "It's grossly unfair to spend that kind of money and not have the readers in place."

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, was a bit more colorful.

"Most people would say it's real dumb to have security cards that rely so much on technology and yet you fail to provide a reader for the card," he told USA Today. "That was not the intent of the program."

Nevertheless, TSA says the card, even without the reader, improves port security.

Maurine Fanguy, head of the ID program, said the cards improve security even without the fingerprint scanners, because they are issued after workers' criminal history and immigration status are checked. The cards, which have holograms and microprinting that can be read only with magnification, are hard to forge, Fanguy said. Port workers previously used driver's licenses or port ID cards.

"This is a much more secure credential," Fanguy said. About 1 million port workers and 200,000 mariners have received the cards.

Greg Soule, a TWIC spokesman, told Security Management that phasing in the cards and then the card readers is like "giving the workers the keys before we put the locks on the door." 

TSA and the United States Coast Guard, the two Department of Homeland Security agencies responsible for TWIC, are currently working on testing card readers and developing card reader specifications from that testing.

Starting today, all workers and mariners needing unescorted access to secure port areas must possess a TWIC. According to Soule, TSA has received positive feedback from all ports regarding TWIC compliance. Previously, port owner/operators and other stakeholdersfeared not enough workers would sign up for the program, leading to delays in production as workers were denied access to secure port areas.