TWIC program under fire

The U.S. House transportation committee blasted the Transportation Security Administration for delays in approving TWIC readers.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering legislation to address renewal deadlines for TWIC holders.

The TSA is still conducting the pilot program for readers to verify the Transportation Worker Identification Credentials’ biometric identifiers, Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said. “Without any readers, TWIC is about as useful as a library card,” he said.

TSA Administrator John Pistole and TWIC Program Manager John Schwartz were scheduled as hearing witnesses, but did not attend or submit written testimony. The Department of Homeland Security said the TSA hasn’t testified before the committee since 2008, but reports to 108 other congressional committees and subcommittees. 

“According to the House’s own rules, Congressional oversight jurisdiction over DHS functions relating to transportation security resides with the House Homeland Security Committee,” the department responded.

Mica said he would continue inquiries about full deployment of the $420 million TWIC program. The TSA has estimated TWIC could cost taxpayers and the private sector up to $3.2 billion over a 10-year period.

On March 17, Rep. Bennie Thompson introduced the TWIC Program Act. House members referred H.R.1105, which has six co-sponsors, to the transportation subcommittee on March 25. Also called the Transitioning With an Improved Credential Program Act, the legislation should ensure TWIC cards do not expire before the 2014 deadline for full implementation of electronic readers, the Mississippi Democrat said.

In February, Pistole testified before a congressional committee that the TSA was concluding the TWIC Reader Pilot Program and working on a program report to Congress.

The TSA has issued almost 1.8 million TWIC credentials since 2007. A 2002 Congressional mandate requires truckers and other maritime workers needing unescorted escort at ports obtain the card, valid for five years.

A TWIC card is $132.50, but applicants with comparable background checks, such as Free and Secure Trade card holders, pay $105.25. Renewal price and the original price are the same.

An April 13 Government Accountability Office report said that although it has been considered, mailing TWIC cards to residences would be inconsistent with DHS policy.