It's been a long time coming, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has unveiled its plan for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential. The proposal has been five years in the making. It first emerged in the months following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The idea then was to issue a card that would guarantee the identity and background of its holder, and grant access to facilities, depending on the level of security. It also would function as a sort of universal ID card – a CDL for a truck driver or a maritime license for a seaman, for example.

Some of the original ideas, such as using smart-card technology and fingerprints as a biometric identifier, have been retained, but the scope of coverage has been scaled back – at least in this phase of the program.

The TWIC, as it is called, will cover some 750,000 workers in the maritime sector, including an estimated 110,000 truck drivers who deliver to or pick up from port facilities. The program will be administered by the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, both agencies of DHS.

The card is essentially a mechanism that a port owner or operator will use to control access to the facility. The company will use its security system to scan the TWIC. To obtain a TWIC, a port worker will have to be fingerprinted and photographed, and clear a background check that includes criminal records, immigration status and terrorist watch lists.

This rule may be just the first step in a long-term effort to make the TWIC universal in transportation. TSA is looking for ideas from all transport sectors on "how this security threat assessment and credentialing system can be used to its full potential."

The TWIC was coming to the maritime sector in any case, but its arrival was accelerated by the recent furor over port security. When Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the Dubai government, received U.S. permission to buy and operate facilities in a half-dozen U.S. ports, it prompted strident calls about the security risk of putting an Arab nation in such a sensitive position.

DPW subsequently backed out of the deal and agreed to sell its U.S. acquisitions to an American owner. The incident prompted congressional hearings and shined a light on port security initiatives that were already under way but perhaps not moving at top speed – such as the TWIC. Homeland Security responded first with a plan to begin name-based background checks for port workers, and now with this proposal.

The TWIC requirements will be familiar to truck drivers who have recently obtained hazardous material endorsements to their commercial licenses. There's the fingerprint requirement, and the background check is similar, as are the standards that have to be met. Also, the program is funded by user fees.

What's different is that the TWIC will use embedded electronic chips and a digital photograph to store data, confirm the driver's identity and guard against fraud.

Drivers who have been fingerprinted and cleared the background check for a hazmat endorsement still have to go through the application process to get a TWIC, but they won't have to go through the background check again – and they won't have to pay as much as someone who is going through the process for the first time.

An applicant will be able to fill out pre-enrollment information online, but must go to an enrollment center to complete the process. At the center he will get fingerprinted and photographed, and pay the fees. TSA estimates these will add up to $149 for a first-time applicant, or $95 for someone who has already cleared security. Fees cover information collection and issuance of the card, as well as background checks and criminal history checks. The charge to replace a lost or damaged card will be $36.

TSA is silent on whether the driver's employer should reimburse these costs.

The agency expects that it will cost $10 million to start the program, $23 million in the first year and more than $13 million for each of the next four years. Port operators can expect to pay between $9,000 and $12,000 per facility or vessel to implement the system, TSA said.

The agency is considering setting up 125 enrollment centers for the 300 ports that are affected by this rule. A list of places under consideration is posted on the TSA web site (; search for TWIC).

Once he has enrolled, the driver will be told when he can pick up and activate his TWIC. The agency said it is looking for alternatives to requiring the driver to return to the same application center – perhaps it will allow the driver to decide which center he would prefer.

The TWIC will be good for five years, and the driver will be responsible for getting it renewed on time.

TSA is taking the opportunity of this notice to propose a change in the employer notification provision of the hazmat rule, and to apply this change to the TWIC, as well. The central element of this provision will stand: If a driver does not clear the background check and constitutes an imminent threat, the agency will contact the driver's employer. But the agency is now proposing to make it clear that this will happen in both the HME and the TWIC application forms.

This is a national standard; states will not have authority to modify the program. But if a state owns the port facility, it can impose additional security measures.