Trump signs bill delaying TWIC reader installation requirement

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Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Lindsey Musselwhite checks Transportation Worker Identification Credential cards at the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Md. The required installation of TWIC readers is now on hold pending a review of the program by the Department of Homeland Security.

A bill signed into law on Aug. 2 by President Trump prohibited the U.S. Coast Guard from implementing an Aug. 23 deadline requiring the installation of Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) readers for high-risk facilities and vessels. Leaders from the maritime industry and other industries who had challenged the Coast Guard rule welcomed the action.

On June 6, when the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approved the Coast Guard’s proposed three-year implementation delay for only two specific groups of facilities, industry stakeholders negatively affected by the limited ruling protested.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to allow just two exemptions to the TWIC reader requirement was posted on June 22. Through the July 23 closing date for public comment, the Federal Register received letters of criticism citing excessive logistical challenges, undue economic impacts and a lack of evidence from the Coast Guard demonstrating that installation of the biometric readers would significantly improve maritime security.

The three-year reprieve was proposed for two categories of facilities: those that handle certain dangerous cargoes (CDC) in bulk but do not transfer the cargoes to or from a vessel, and those that receive vessels carrying CDC in bulk but do not, during the vessel-to-facility interface, transfer the bulk cargoes to or from the vessels. Other facilities and vessels that the Coast Guard considers to be high risk, including facilities that receive vessels carrying more than 1,000 passengers, were still required under the proposal to have the TWIC readers by Aug. 23.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry wanted answers about why the Coast Guard would elect only to “partially defer” the TWIC reader rule. In his July 20 comments, Landry contended that Coast Guard officials had led many stakeholders to believe “the extension would apply to all CDC facilities covered by the rule.” He further argued that reader implementation “should be delayed in its entirety,” citing numerous justifications for his claim.

Landry called attention to the Coast Guard’s ineffective evaluation design and lack of requisite data, claiming the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had yet to demonstrate how, if at all, TWIC readers would improve maritime security. Many of his points mirrored contentions in critiques posted in the Federal Register during the comment period.

Gus Gaspardo, president of the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), also used the platform to articulate concerns, stating that the Coast Guard should “re-evaluate the need for TWIC readers … because they do not substantively enhance security.”

In his comments, Gary Scheibe, chairman of the Houston Ship Channel Security District and East Harris County Manufacturers’ Association, claimed “particular interest … because many (association members) are Maritime Transportation Security Act-regulated facilities.” He called the rule “misguided” and “nonsensical,” and suggested the Coast Guard “should redo its risk assessment methodology from the beginning” and “issue a new rulemaking.”

Basic economics was a big concern. “There is substantial evidence the Coast Guard significantly underestimated the cost of the TWIC reader rule,” Landry said. “Evidence from the state of Louisiana alone demonstrates the significant economic impact of the TWIC reader rule.”

Jennifer Carpenter, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Waterways Operators (AWO), argued that the rule was confusing at best. She urged the Coast Guard to “modify the (TWIC installation) requirement if it imposes costs that exceed its benefits.”

To the relief of industry leaders across the nation, legislators were listening and responding. On July 10, the House passed a bill introduced by Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., that would, in large part, provide the “necessary relief to transportation stakeholders who have suffered under the opaque and unresponsive rulemaking processes of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

Sixteen days later, the Senate passed the legislation and it headed to the Oval Office. Trump signed the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Accountability Act of 2018 into law on Aug. 2.

Under provisions of the act, the Coast Guard is prohibited from implementing the rule requiring electronic TWIC inspections until after DHS has submitted an assessment of the program to Congress. The act also restricts the Coast Guard from submitting any proposal or issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking “for any revision to such rule except to extend its effective date.” In addition, the law prohibits “any other rule requiring the use of biometric readers for biometric transportation security cards.”

Katko said the statute will “ensure greater transparency from DHS and enable a more responsive and collaborative process in implementing any future rule.”

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