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DHS alters plans for transportation worker ID program

(The following article by Jonathan Marino was posted on Govexec.com on August 25.)

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Department agencies on Monday announced changes to plans for implementing a transportation worker identification card program.

Facility and vessel owners and operators will not need to verify biometric data contained in workers' ID cards during the initial phase of the Transportation Worker Identification Credentials effort.

The Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard announced they will hold off indefinitely on requiring that TWIC card readers be installed at points of entry for shipping businesses and at ports. Biometric security companies criticized the decision.

Walter Hamilton, chairman of the International Biometric Industry Association, called a program where biometric data is collected, but not verified, "half of a TWIC."

"Without means to authenticate the card ... anyone could use a TWIC card to gain entry" to ports, he said. "That's not ideal."

In addition to holding off on TWIC card verification, TSA and the Coast Guard said in the Monday announcement that despite requests to extend the 45-day comment period on a draft proposal for implementing the program, they will not allow more time for discussion. The cards are set to be issued later this year.

Under the current plan, transportation and shipping industry workers will have to pay for their own cards, at a cost of about $140.

Card readers could also prove costly when they are required. One analysis conducted by Alabama's state port authority estimates that readers could cost more than $6,000 each. Hamilton said that the cost will likely be closer to $1,000 to $2,000 per machine -- but said several might be needed.

Hamilton said he envisioned verification points for drivers entering ports - some in cars, others in 18-wheeler trucks - that would necessitate one card reader at window-level for a car and one positioned higher for trucks.

"It's not cheap," Hamilton said.

Another problem is the machines' durability. "They can't survive in a maritime-weather-exposed environment," he said.

TSA did not respond to requests for comment.

Friday, August 25, 2006

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