Port security card system will work, officials tell senators
Homeland Security plans to begin issuing cards at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware Oct. 16, followed by 11 other ports in November.
Homeland Security Department officials on Thursday attempted to assure lawmakers they are ready to begin a massive program to issue port workers security cards, despite years of delays and concerns that individuals might be mistakenly denied the credentials.
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee peppered Homeland Security officials with questions during a hearing about how they will handle vetting up to a million port workers for the so-called transportation worker identification credentials. They also asked whether the department is ready to correct mistakes that could cost innocent workers their livelihoods.
"It's absolutely not our intent to keep people from going to work," said Maurine Fanguy, the department's TWIC program manager. Workers who have access to secure port areas will have to undergo a criminal, immigration and terrorist screening check to get a TWIC card.
The card also includes a biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint scan. The department plans to begin issuing TWIC cards at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware Oct. 16, followed by 11 other ports in November.
"We would plan in the next year to enroll everyone who requires unsupported access to the nation's ports and vessels," Fanguy said.
Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., questioned what would happen if workers are mistakenly denied cards. Fanguy compared the TWIC program to the department's program for vetting truck drivers for permits to carry hazardous materials. She said 700,000 drivers have been vetted. Out of those who were denied permits, 10,000 drivers appealed and of those who appealed, 99 percent received their permits.
"We're seeing that it's only about 1 percent in the hazmat population [who appealed] and we've been able to turn that around very quickly when that does occur," a Homeland Security spokesman added.
Regardless, labor officials worry that major problems will occur. "It definitely has the potential to disqualify people who are not security risks," said Larry Willis, general counsel for the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO. "There's going to have to be a lot of oversight here."
Willis said some offenses the department has listed that could be used to deny workers TWIC cards are minor and have nothing to do with terrorism. "We continue to be concerned to make sure this program ... prevents those who represent a genuine security risk [from accessing ports] and doesn't punish someone who made a bad decision years ago," he said.