Panel bemoans transportation worker ID program delays

"DHS has a history of mismanaging large programs," House Homeland Security Committee chairman says; department pushes back program's effective date from Sept. 25 to April 15.

The leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee and its Border Subcommittee expressed concern Wednesday over the continued problems in implementing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, a critical part of the effort to increase security for the thousands of maritime facilities and the ships, trucks and trains that pass through them.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson said the Homeland Security Department has delayed again the effective date for the TWIC program, from Sept. 25 to April 15, because of problems. So far, the program has enrolled about 500,000 of the estimated 1.2 million workers it must cover.

"DHS has a history of mismanaging large programs and ... ordinary citizens have to pay the price for bureaucratic mismanagement," Thompson said in a written statement.

Border Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., noted that Congress mandated the TWIC program nearly six years ago, but the program "is still not fully rolled out at ports, much less any other transportation modes, and we continue to see delays in the mandatory enrollment date."

Sanchez, whose district borders the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, complained about the requirement for multiple trips to enrollment centers and the lack of enrollment forms in the languages understood by large numbers of the effected workers. "There is no excuse for this," she said.

She and workers' representatives complained about problems enrolling foreign-born U.S. citizens because of poor training of the TWIC contractor's enrollment personnel.

Border Subcommittee ranking member Mark Souder, R-Ind., said he was cautiously optimistic about the program but expressed concern that delayed implementation of the program could create major delays at the ports and associated transportation facilities.

He also questioned the progress in enrolling truckers, who would carry maritime cargo into his inland district.

But officials for the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard, which are responsible for TWIC, and Lockheed Martin Corp., which has the contract to run the new security program, cited what they considered significant progress.

They noted the opening of the last of 149 planned enrollment centers, supported by 183 mobile sites, and the increasing number of workers enrolled.

Maurine Fanguy, TWIC program manager at TSA, said they were set for "a smooth transition to compliance," starting with the first port facilities in New England on Oct. 15.

And with enrollment running at 20,000 a week, she promised complete enrollment by the new effective deadline in April.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson was equally positive, while acknowledging "the process has not been free of challenges."

Fanguy and Watson said they had received and tested a number of prototype readers and are testing additional machines. They also are working to present draft rules for implementing the TWIC cards and the readers, even before the tests are completed.

Stephen Lord, GAO's acting director of Homeland Security issues, was unusually positive in his analysis of a program the agency has criticized repeatedly in the past. But he questioned if the program would complete enrollment by the new deadline.