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Five years later, a smoother trip through the TWIC process

Aug 28, 2013 11:41 AM

Anyone who holds a U.S. Coast Guard-issued Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) must have a valid Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card. A little more than five years ago, like thousands of others, I “jumped through the hoops” and was issued my card. By the time the process was complete, I was glad to have that done — at least until the end of March 2013. Knowing that my TWIC was due to expire this spring, in early March I called 1-866-DHS-TWIC to make the appointment for my renewal.

I had heard from a chief engineer friend of mine that I only had to go in once to get my renewal, but during the phone call I found out that convenience was only for an Extended Expiration Date (EED) TWIC. An EED TWIC renewal essentially extends the expiration of the old card by three years, but is limited to U.S. citizens/nationals whose TWIC expires before the end of 2014. For those like me who want the full five-year renewal, or whose existing card has already expired, two trips to the TWIC center are still required. I pre-enrolled and made my appointment for the third week of March.

Because it had been five years since I’d gone through the process, the night before I checked the official TWIC website, http://twicprogram.tsa.dhs.gov, to make sure of what to bring with me the next day. One of the first things I saw was the requirement that anyone applying for a TWIC has to bring in three pieces of approved identification, one from “List A” and two from “List B.” There are seven different ID cards that meet the requirements for List A. I chose to use my U.S. passport. There are 15 pieces of ID that make up List B, and two must be chosen — with at least one being a government-issued card with a picture. I decided on my Washington driver’s license and my MMC. It also reminded me that I could not pay my TWIC fee with cash or personal check. So the next day, before driving in for my appointment, I stopped by my bank and got a cashier’s check for $129.75.

It was one of those rainy/windy/sunny/cloudy Northwest spring days when I made my two-and-a-half-hour trip to the Seattle TWIC center. Five years earlier, when I enrolled for my original TWIC card, the center was located in a vacant Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge in the Georgetown section of south Seattle. It is now located in the back of a brown, glass-fronted building across the street from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office, near the Duwamish waterway. Traffic was better than I had expected and I got there a half-hour early, parked my truck and then headed in.

I was met by Debora, one of the agents at the center, and told her of my appointment. After a few minutes I was asked back to her cubicle to begin the process. Verifying my ID with my documents from “List A” and “List B,” and paying my fee was the first order of business. Debora then put my personal information such as date of birth, address and occupation into the computer, took a digital photograph of me for my card and began the fingerprinting.

When I got my original TWIC card I had a very difficult time with the fingerprinting. The agent told me then that around 3 percent of the applicants had worn-down fingerprints like I did, presumably from years of rough work at sea with their hands, and that made it too hard to get a good scan. Supposedly, new software introduced since helped solve that problem. I was still apprehensive as I put my fingers on the screen, however. Luckily, things were better than before, and Debora was able to get all my fingerprints done after only three tries — not the 20 it took the first time.

At that point we were finished, and I was told that I’d be notified when my renewal card was ready for pickup. I was expecting a one- to two-month wait while the background check was being conducted — around the same time it took for my original TWIC card to be issued. Instead, it was a pleasant surprise when just two weeks later, in mid-April, I got a call that it was ready. I once again called 1-866-DHS-TWIC and made an appointment to pick it up.

That day Debora again ushered me back to her cubicle, this time for the card activation. There was a keypad on her desk where I had to input the TWIC password I chose, which would be needed if/when any TWIC card reader machines are installed at U.S. cargo terminals and refineries. The password had to be between six and eight characters long and input into the system twice for verification. I was then issued my new TWIC card and was asked for my old card. I hadn’t brought it with me, not realizing that I was supposed to. Luckily, my new TWIC could still be activated, but Debora told me that my old, now-obsolete card should be returned in the mail to the TSA/TWIC Arlington, Va., address on the back of it.

Compared to my first TWIC card experience, the renewal process was far better. It cost less money, there were no huge lines at the TWIC center and the fingerprinting went much smoother and faster. I figure that after five years Lockheed Martin had finally got many of the “bugs” worked out. That, however, may be a moot point, because it was recently announced that a new TWIC enrollment provider would be taking over Lockheed Martin’s contract in the summer of 2013. It will be interesting to see what the learning curve will be for MorphoTrust. Already I have heard the good news that they plan to use mobile TWIC activation units, which could make it easier for mariners living in one of the 10 states that do not have a TWIC enrollment center. I’ll report to you on any other changes that MorphoTrust may implement the next time I renew my TWIC card — in March 2018.
Till next time, I wish you all smooth sailin’.

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Kelly Sweeney holds the licenses of master (oceans, any gross tons) and master of towing vessels (oceans), and regularly sails on a wide variety of commercial vessels. He lives on an island near Seattle. You can contact him at captsweeney@professionalmariner.com.

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