A new Government Accountability Office report to Congress has some far from kind words about the Transportation Security Administration and biometric readers used in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, overseen by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and coordinated along with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The TWIC program, launched shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, uses background checks with special cards issued to more than a million people that have applied for them, including truck drivers who need unescorted access to transportation facilities, especially the nation’s ports.
The problem, says GAO, is not with the cards, which cost nearly $130 for five years, but rather with DHS still having problems developing and installing card readers at facilities in a pilot effort. This in essence renders the cards as little more than an expensive form of identification.
“DHS’s assumption that the lack of a common credential could leave facilities open to a security breach with falsified credentials has not been validated,” said GAO in the report. “Eleven years after initiation, DHS has not demonstrated how, if at all, TWIC will improve maritime security.”
It recommended that at a minimum, DHS should consider s comprehensive comparison of alternative credentialing approaches.
GAO also blamed DHS and TSA because they did not correct planning shortfalls that GAO identified in November 2009.
“TSA officials said challenges, such as readers incapable of recording needed data, prevented them from collecting complete and consistent pilot data,” the GAO report said. “Thus, TSA could not determine whether operational problems encountered at pilot sites were due to TWIC cards, readers, or users, or a combination of all three.
It is recommending that Congress should halt DHS’s efforts to promulgate a final regulation until the successful completion of a security assessment of the effectiveness of using TWIC.
The 72-page report is available online.