GAO wants more testing of ID program for port workers

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not adequately tested its program to roll out secure identification cards to port workers across the country, according to a just-released report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

As a result, the GAO is recommending that the TSA do more testing of both technology and processes to ensure that key components of the Transportation Worker Identity Credential (TWIC) program are effective before it is rolled out nationwide.

Moving quickly to implement the TWIC program "without developing and testing solutions to identified problems to ensure that they work effectively could lead to further problems, increased costs and program delays without achieving the program's intended goals," the GAO said.

The TWIC program was put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. 2001, and is aimed at more securely authenticating the identity of the 6 million or so workers at an estimated 4,000 transportation facilities in the country. Under the program, the TSA -- which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- is required to conduct background checks on all of the workers and issue tamper-proof biometric credentials for validating their identities.

Plans to implement the program in the maritime sector were accelerated in April amid heightened security concerns related to the proposed transfer of control of port operations to a Dubai-based company. Under the current schedule, port operators are expected to enroll workers and issue them the biometric cards by the end of this year.

To evaluate the status of the program, the GAO interviewed DHS and industry officials and examined documents related to a TWIC program test conducted by the TSA between August 2004 and June 2005. The GAO analysis shows that the TSA may be moving ahead without all of the information it needs to successfully roll out the TWIC project in the maritime sector.