Coast Guard Authorization Act Impacts the TWIC Program

Oct 6, 2010 12:00 AM
This week, after some convoluted maneuvering, Congress finally passed the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010.1 Although there all sorts of provisions relevant to Maritime Transportation Security, this post is limited to Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) Program aspects of the legislation. I'll deal with other aspects later.
As usual with legislation, the pertinent provisions are scattered hither and yon and sometimes their import is not immediately obvious on the face of things. Section 802 of the Act, however, is helpfully titled "Transportation Worker Identification Credential." It calls for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make a report to various Congressional committees and the Comptroller General within 120 days of completing the ongoing TWIC Pilot Test of TWIC readers in the maritime environment. The report is to assess the Pilot Test, including analyzing "the viability of those technologies for use in the maritime environment, including any challenges to implementing those technologies and strategies for mitigating identified challenges." This Section also tasks the Comptroller General review the report and provide his assessment to the committees, but doesn't give him a deadline. This Section appears to reflect a healthy skepticism of the progress of the TWIC Program.
Section 808 of the Act establishes a pilot program under which someone needing a TWIC could get fingerprinted at one of not less than 20 facilities, operated by DHS or a contractor, in addition to existing TWIC issuing offices. The purpose of this Section isn't obvious, since fingerprinting is only one part of enrollment, the requirement for these additional fingerprinting locations expires one year after they have been established, and the Act doesn't require any study or report to Congress at the end of the "pilot program."
Section 809 adds the language ••allowed unescorted access to a secure area designated in a vessel security plan approved under section 70103 of this title" to two classes of people required to get TWICs under 46 US Code Section 70105. Specifically, this language will now relieve some USCG-credentialed merchant mariners and some persons on towing vessels that handle tank vessels from having to get a TWIC. According to one press report, at least one purpose of this provision was to relieve fishing guides (The Chairman of the relevant House Committee is from Minnesota.) from having to get TWICs. Their small boats don't require Vessel Security Plans (VSPs) under 33 CFR Part 104. Since not all towing vessels that handle tank vessels are regulated by Part 104 either, there are apparently some other beneficiaries of this Section somewhere in the maritime industry. The mule skinners at the National Canal Museum in Erie, PA, who became famous when their need for TWICs was mocked during a Congressional hearing involving the DHS Secretary, might also benefit—I don't think their passenger barges require VSPs (they're under 100 gross tons, they don't carry 150 passengers, and they're not engaged on international voyages), but if they do, they wouldn't seem to have any secure areas.
Section 814 authorizes the DHS Secretary to use a "secondary authentication system" to verify the identity of TWIC holders whose fingerprints can't be taken or read. Section 815 calls for DHS to assess TWIC enrollment sites including: (1) the feasibility of keeping them open and (2) "the quality of customer service, including the periods of time individuals are kept on hold on the telephone, whether appointments are kept, and processing times for applications." DHS is then supposed to develop "timelines and benchmarks" for implementing the findings of the assessment. A lot of people have contacted their representatives about reductions and relocations of TWIC enrollment centers, as well as their experiences with the centers, and this is the result.
Section 817 gives the Comptroller General one year to produce a report on the overlap between federal and state and local transportation security programs with "recommendations on limiting the number of background checks and forms of identification required under such programs to reduce or eliminate duplication with Federal programs." The State of Florida famously had its Florida Uniform Port Access Credential (FUPAC), which required a criminal background check that included crimes not covered by the TWIC Program. Other areas may have similar requirements. Or this may be directed at achieving one of TWIC program's original concepts—cutting down on a trucker's need for a different ID for every facility in the land.
Subsection 818(a) tasks DHS to coordinate with MTSA-regulated owners and operators to get them to escort people who are waiting for TWICs to be issued (whether on original application of for replacement of a lost or stolen card). Given the number of ads I see restricting available jobs to people who already have a TWIC, I don't think this provision is going to get very far, particularly since it says that "[n]othing in this subsection shall be construed as requiring or compelling an owner or operator to provide escorted access." Of greater benefit to TWIC applicants, Subsection 818(a) also requires DHS to perform the security review of an original TWIC application, including mailing the Initial Determination of Threat Assessment letter, within 30 days. Appeals and waiver requests are also to be dealt with, either with a determination or a request for additional information, "to the greatest extent practicable" within 30 days of submission of the request or the additional information requested.
Subsection 818(b) tasks the Comptroller General to produce a report "assessing the costs, technical feasibility, and security measures associated with implementing procedures to deliver a transportation security card to an approved applicant's place of residence in a secure manner or to allow an approved applicant to receive the card at an enrollment center of the individual's choosing." If the Comptroller General finds this feasible, DHS will have one year to implement the secure means of delivery. Any extra costs of delivery will, however, have to be borne by the TWIC applicant. There have been a raft of complaints from highly mobile merchant mariners and truckers about the difficulties posed by the requirement to return to the enrollment center they applied at. I don't know if residential delivery will prove feasible from a security stand point (plus you still have to find a way to activate the card), but there shouldn't be a problem with picking a TWIC up at a different enrollment center. Section 823 directs DHS to develop a plan to allow receipt and activation of TWICs at regulated facilities and vessels that would like to "implement this capability." (The plan is to be completed within a year after the final TWIC reader rule is issued.) This would provide a possible answer to the issue of activating a TWIC received at home, but it's not a sure thing, because the legislation provides that no vessel or facility can be required to provide on-site activation.
Lastly, Section 819 permits DHS to extend to expiration date of a TWIC by up to a year in order to align with the expiration date of a USCG merchant marine credential. If DHS chooses to implement this authority, it would make life simpler for any number of mariners.
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1 The link is to the "House Amendments to Senate Amendment" of the original H.R. 3619. The Senate added a few amendments to that, which the House then had to pass, but those amendments don't affect what's discussed here.
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