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Less than 8 percent of port workers have new security IDs

Less than 8 percent of workers at U.S. ports have received identification cards that the Transportation Security Administration requires as part of a nationwide effort to tighten security. As a result, the agency has moved the deadline to issue the cards back seven months.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The ID cards are required under the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program that TSA created in December 2001 in response to lawmakers' fears that lax security made it too easy for terrorists to access U.S. port facilities and vessels. TSA expects to improve security by requiring workers to carry the high-tech ID cards, which include their biometric data, and are used to enter port buildings and to board vessels.

As of the first week of May, 275,000 of the 1.2 million workers TSA identified as needing the ID cards have completed enrollment and about 90,000 have been issued their credentials. In some cases, the cards have been made, but have yet to be picked up because these workers are required to travel for months at a time and have not had the opportunity to obtain their cards, said Maurine Fanguy, TWIC program director for TSA.

After numerous delays, TSA started the enrollment process in Wilmington, Del., on Oct. 16, 2007. Congress voiced concerns about the timeline this year, but acknowledged progress was being made.

As a result of the slow rollout of the TWIC program, the Homeland Security Department announced at the end of April that it has pushed back the deadline for all cards to be issued from Sept. 25, 2008, to April 15, 2009.

"DHS originally had put out a final rule that provided an 18-month enrollment time frame for workers," Fanguy said. "With TWIC [enrollment] starting in October, that left 11 months. This realignment is honoring our commitment. We made this decision after a lot of consultation with various people in industry."

Also delaying the program was an increase in the number of workers TSA identified as requiring a card, jumping 60 percent from an estimated 750,000 to 1.2 million. The increase is actually a positive move, Fanguy said, because it reflects a broader commitment to security than first anticipated. TSA is operating 101 enrollment centers nationwide and plans to open 46 more this summer. The agency also has been working with industry to offer mobile enrollment stations so employees can enroll on-site.

"Our team is on planes every week going out and getting communication out there to make sure workers understand the process," Fanguy said. "We're seeing a tremendous number coming through every day. We were processing a handful a day when we started out in Wilmington, Del., then tens, then hundreds, and now thousands every day. We're continuing that dialogue."

TSA has set up a Web site where workers can pre-enroll for a TWIC card and find information on the program.

The agency recently updated the technical specifications for the card readers that were published in September 2007 and is testing prototypes, but it has yet to officially approve final versions. Currently, staff at ports visually examine the cards, looking for specific security features such as holograms.

"We have a lot of work to go, because we want to go through a rigorous and formal testing process," Fanguy said. "But all indications are that industry will be able to build upon existing technology. The initial phase was to get the specs done, then go and build the equipment. We'll soon be doing a formal evaluation process for a maritime environment, then begin to deploy some in the field."

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