recommended reading

After nearly a decade of effort, new worker IDs aren't keeping ports secure, GAO says

Despite nine years of fine-tuning and more than $400 million in funding, a government-issued picture ID card used at U.S. ports provides less security than the average state-issued driver's license, a federal auditor told lawmakers Tuesday.

Government Accountability Office investigators were able to make counterfeit versions of the Transportation Worker Identity Credential card, which they used to bluff their way through security at major U.S. ports, according to a GAO report released Tuesday during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Once they were inside the ports, the investigators were able to drive a vehicle with a "simulated explosive" into a secure area.

In other cases, the investigators, using phony names and backgrounds, applied for and received real TWIC cards, the report said.

The investigators were not able to bluff their way into ports that required a separate port-specific ID, the report said.

"In our report today we reference a 2008 Coast Guard assessment that states very clearly al Qaeda considers U.S. ports and facilities to be legitimate targets," Stephen Lord, GAO's director of homeland security and justice issues, told committee members. "To us that's why this issue is important."

The 2002 Maritime Security Transportation Act required TWIC IDs for port workers to reduce the chances for terrorist and other criminals to gain access to U.S. ports. About 1.72 million transportation workers are using TWIC cards now, according to the Transportation Safety Administration, the organization that oversees the program, which is slated to cost about $3 billion to fully implement.

TWIC cards contain both a photo of the cardholder and a chip with biometric information, but only a handful of ports have machines that can read the card chips as part of a pilot program.

The programs' shortfalls are a combination of too few checks during the application process and too little scrutiny by port security staff, Lord told the committee.

Officials who issued the cards typically did thorough background checks on applicants' criminal history and immigration status, but didn't adequately ensure that the individual applying for the ID was in fact the person he or she claimed to be.

"You can say you're Joe Blow and as long as no derogatory information comes back you could be provided a card," Lord said. "That's not positively identifying someone. That's a negative ID."

As an example of a positive identification, Lord cited most driver's license bureaus, which require applicants to produce electric bills or other materials to demonstrate they live in the state they claim under the name they present.

The TWIC application process also fails to properly verify information about applicants' immigration status and doesn't monitor changes in that status during the card's five-year life span, GAO reported.

TSA Administrator John Pistole told committee members he'd give the cards a score of three out of 10 in their current form and said he has asked GAO to help the agency do a "top-to-bottom review" to see how the credentialing processes can be improved.

In response to a question from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Pistole said there had been instances in which individuals on the government's terrorist watch list applied for a TWIC card. He declined to specify how many times that had occurred during the public hearing, but said it was a "very small" number.

Pistole said many TWIC cardholders do have criminal records, which he attributed to the low-skilled, low-paid nature of much port work.

The TWIC background checks aim to ferret out applicants' criminal histories, but only to reject those who present a high likelihood for aiding terrorists or committing other major crimes, he said.

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.