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DHS Misses Congressional Due Date to Show That Port ID Cards Work

A dock worker communicates on a walkie-talkie while a ship to shore crane loads containers onto a ship at the Georgia Ports Authority Garden City terminal.

A dock worker communicates on a walkie-talkie while a ship to shore crane loads containers onto a ship at the Georgia Ports Authority Garden City terminal. // Stephen B. Morton/AP

The Homeland Security Department has missed a congressionally ordered April 17 deadline to show that a half-billion dollar program for distributing maritime employee identification smartcards and scanners has actually protected vulnerable port areas. 

DHS officials told Nextgov that an assessment of the effectiveness of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program is still in draft form. 

Last May, federal watchdogs recommended lawmakers repeal a law requiring employees to swipe the TWIC cards until the Transportation Security Administration produced the study. January 17 funding legislation expressing the intent of Congress incorporated some of the advice. Lawmakers instructed TSA to file such an assessment within 90 days. 

This week, the auditors, who work for the Government Accountability Office, testified before senators that, as of March, "TSA had no estimate for when the effectiveness assessment would be completed." 

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said on Thursday night, "Currently, the TWIC security assessment is in draft and is awaiting sign off from TSA and U.S. Coast Guard."

DHS has been preparing to expand TWIC nationwide at a projected cost of $3 billion, plus $234.2 million to hook up card scanners. 

Agency officials have said they see the credentials as worthwhile but would consider trying other technologies. 

“It’s not a silver bullet. It’s part of our layered security,” Steve Sadler, TSA’s assistant administrator for intelligence and analysis, told House members last year. “I think it provides value when it’s used properly and installed properly.”

The lawmakers wanted him to weigh a different approach, such as the "common access card," which functions as a standard military ID, or an arrangement in which local ports issue credentials.

Sadler replied at the time that TSA would look at any alternatives to enhance results.

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