Lawmakers doubt DHS can meet port security deadlines

House lawmakers were skeptical Thursday that the Homeland Security Department will meet key congressional mandates to improve the nation's maritime security, especially after one official was unable to name the 10 ports where a new worker identification card system would be tested.

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee said they were worried about the department's ability to begin testing of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program at U.S. seaports by July 1, which is required by a major maritime security law enacted last October.

"We know they are not going to meet this deadline," House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in written testimony at a hearing to examine maritime security. "Instead, this roll-out won't begin at the earliest until late summer or early fall."

Lawmakers also expressed concerns that the department would not have a fully operational cargo scanning system up and running at three foreign ports by Oct. 1, another mandate in the law.

Homeland Security Department officials said they were making progress on the programs.

Nonetheless, assurances from Maurine Fanguy, director of the TWIC program, stirred unease on the committee. Although she said the department plans to conduct testing at 10 U.S. ports, she did not say if the July 1 deadline will be met.

Fanguy said testing would begin first at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware, but did not specify a date when that testing would begin.

Lawmakers pressed Fanguy to disclose the other ports where testing will be done. To their dissatisfaction, Fanguy could not give an answer.

"Why is it hard to say the 10 that you're going to do?" Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., asked in frustration.

Fanguy said the department plans to test the TWIC program at a mix of larger and smaller ports, and is still working with its contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., to ensure the program does not disrupt port operations. "We want to get it right so that we don't impact commerce and so we don't impact people's livelihoods," she said.

She said Lockheed will eventually set up 130 locations across the country for port employees to enroll in the program.

Jayson Ahern, Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner for field operations, said he is confident the department will meet the Oct. 1 deadline for scanning cargo at three foreign ports.

Thompson expressed doubts, however, especially after having led a congressional delegation to one location: the Port of Cortes in Honduras.

"I had hoped to see a more robust rollout of this program," Thompson said. "Instead, my colleagues and I were greeted with paint fumes. The paint was literally still drying when we arrived at the port."

He added: "I am now concerned that the department will not meet [the Oct.1] deadline."

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