The phrase "identification, please" is about to take on a whole new meaning in the transportation industry. If a proposal from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) takes effect, up to 750,000 of the nation's truckers and port workers could soon be submitting fingerprints and other proofs of identity as part of stepped up port security checks.
Last month, the TSA and the U.S. Coast Guard approved a 227-page proposal to adopt a national Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). The Coast Guard has also approved a pro posed regulation that would coordinate with the TWIC program to streamline the current credentialing process for merchant mariners. Both proposals have been published in the Federal Register and will be open for public comment until roughly the end of June.
The proposed TWIC program would be funded through user fees. Drivers would pay approximately $139 to obtain a TWIC card, although drivers who have undergone comparable background checks recently would only have to pay about $105. The TWIC card would be valid for five years.
Under the proposal, all individuals with unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act would be required to carry a TWIC card. This includes longshoremen, port operator employees, truck drivers and rail workers. Background checks would include a review of criminal history records, terrorist watch lists, legal immigration status, and outstanding warrants.
"I think the objective is good," says Mike Regan, CEO of TranzAct Technologies. "We want to make sure that the people who have access [to] our ports are the people [who] are authorized. Whether it is practical remains to be seen."
Calls for a master card
Though no one has gone so far as to oppose the measure, several shippers and truckers have said they would like to make sure that the TWIC card covers everyone, and that drivers and port workers won't need multiple ID cards. "Universality would be very beneficial to preclude people from having to go out and get different kinds of cards," says John Ficker, president of the National Industrial Transportation League.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has expressed similar sentiments in testimony on the subject. Though the ATA does not oppose background checks, it does "oppose the wasteful expenditure of resources—both government and private sector—that comes with conducting multiple background checks of the same individual against the same databases."
In recent years, truck drivers have been subject to multiple background checks requiring applicants to appear at different enrollment facilities, adapt to different administrative procedures, and pay steep user fees as they sought to comply with various mandates. TSA, for example, has established one set of background check processes for truckers obtaining hazmat endorsements and another for those going to secure airport areas. TWIC could add yet another set of requirements for truckers hauling cargo into and out of seaports.
One concern for shippers and carriers is TWIC's potential impact on the labor supply. It's tough enough to find drivers to haul loads in and out of ports right now, they argue. It will be that much harder once they're limited to drivers who carry the proper credentials. Another concern is the possibility of counterfeiting.
To guard against fraud, the TSA will use "smart card" technology, and possibly RFID. It will also include a worker's photo, name, biometric information and multiple other fraud protection measures.
TSA is accepting bids from vendors wishing to provide TWIC enrollment services and to operate the data management system. One of the bidders is expected to be BearingPoint, which tested the TWIC prototype.