Audit: Unclear if TWIC improves maritime security

The centerpiece of the nation’s port security program does not increase security and the whole program should be reassessed, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The GAO conducted an audit of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card reader pilot program and found the results were “incomplete, inaccurate and unreliable for informing Congress and for developing a regulation about the readers.” The GAO completed its report as part of the Coast Guard’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the TWIC reader requirements after the Department of Homeland Security submitted its assessment of the pilot program to Congress.

The GAO audit questioned the program’s basic premise and effectiveness in enhancing security after the results were found to be unreliable.

In 2008 the Transportation Security Administration began pilot tests at four ports to assess the technology and operational impact of using the TWIC with card readers.

The Department of Homeland Security report to Congress on the pilot tests concluded that TWIC cards and readers would provide a critical layer of port security. However, the GAO said the data did not support this conclusion.

“For example, DHS’s assumption that the lack of a common credential could leave facilities open to a security breach with falsified credentials has not been validated. Eleven years after initiation, DHS has not demonstrated how, if at all, TWIC will improve maritime security,” according to the GAO report.

The pilot program found weaknesses, including the fact that the TWIC readers and access control systems could collect the data from the cards, and did not capture any reasons why the cards could not be read.

Also, the TSA and the independent test agent did not capture data on malfunctioning cards and did not record data to compare operational performance at access points with TWIC readers.

TSA officials said challenges, such as readers incapable of recording needed data, prevented them from collecting complete and consistent pilot data. As a result, the TSA could not determine whether operational problems encountered at pilot sites were due to TWIC cards, readers, users or a combination of all three.

The GAO recommends that Congress halt DHS’s efforts to promulgate a final regulation until the successful completion of a security assessment of the effectiveness of using TWIC.

By Professional Mariner Staff