Watchdog cites flaws in transportation ID program

A Transportation Security Administration program for issuing port workers secure, biometric-based identification cards is susceptible to more cost overruns and delays, government auditors concluded in a new report.

The Government Accountability Office report finds flaws in TSA's test program for implementing the transportation worker identification credential program. TSA is developing the so-called TWIC program to meet a congressional mandate that all workers with access to sensitive port and vessel areas undergo background checks and carry such IDs.

"Rapidly moving forward with implementation of the TWIC program without developing and testing solutions to identify problems to ensure that they work effectively could lead to further problems, increased costs and program delays without achieving the program's intended goals," the GAO report stated.

Auditors said TSA faces three primary challenges: enrolling workers and issuing cards in a timely manner to a large number of workers; ensuring that biometric readers work effectively; and balancing security components of the program with the potential impact on facilities.

"The program has been plagued by cost overruns and missed deadlines," Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Daniel Inouye of Hawaii said in response to the report. "I continue to be troubled by the lack of a comprehensive management plan -- a plan that is more than a year overdue to Congress."

The report also found that poor planning and lack of effective oversight by TSA resulted in a doubling of contract costs, Inouye said. "The report's findings make it all the more important the Commerce Committee continue to conduct strong oversight over the implementation of the program," he said. "I am troubled by the cost estimates developed by the Department of Homeland Security and will closely monitor the costs of this program."

A study by an independent contractor last year concluded that the cost for nationwide implementation of TWIC could range from $1.1 billion to almost $2 billion.

TSA declined to comment by press time. But GAO said TSA acknowledged challenges to implementing the program and has taken some corrective action, including allowing more time for installing access-control technologies at facilities.

TSA also said problems occurred in the test program because the agency did not have sufficient personnel to monitor contractor performance, GAO added.

TSA plans to start enrolling port workers into the program by the end of the year. The agency will identify the highest priority ports and then enroll all workers there. Every worker will be screened against terrorist watch lists, as well as for legal work status and criminal history.

The agency has checked about 650,000 union and port workers against terrorist watch lists and for legal work status to date. Inouye noted that a port security bill enacted into law this month addresses many of the issues being raised by GAO.

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