Port security program adrift
Identity card documents for workers deleted
WASHINGTON - A seaports security program spurred by the 9/11 attacks has hit yet another snag, causing concern that commerce could be slowed during the busy holiday season.
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson said ID card applications for about 3,000 seaport workers were inadvertently deleted by the program's contractor, Lockheed Martin. The Mississippi Democrat's panel oversees the program that aims to make sure potential terrorists cannot access sensitive security areas of US seaports.
"The department's implementation of the program has been an abysmal failure," Thompson wrote in a letter dated yesterday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Additionally, at least 150 workers have been told by their port operators that they cannot work until they have the secure card, Thompson said.
Workers who are seeking to overturn earlier government decisions denying them a card can be escorted within ports until appeals are resolved. Currently, some 3,000 workers are appealing the government's decisions.
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, program was created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A Transportation Security Administration spokesman said the agency discovered the deleted applications over the summer and quickly moved to correct the problem. TSA is part of the Homeland Security Department.
"Once these workers were contacted, their applications were expedited and the situation was quickly alleviated," he said. More than 2,000 of those workers have been reenrolled, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said.
The seaports program has faced several problems and delays since it was prescribed six years ago. Most of the machines that print the ID cards were malfunctioning earlier this year. In May, officials decided to extend the compliance deadline by six months. While more than 466,000 cards were activated as of this week, not all ports have machine readers to read them. The $70 million-plus program also has been criticized because of potentially intrusive background checks on the workers, who have to foot the bill for the $132.50 cost of the card.
The latest hiccup is just another example of the mismanaged program, said Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department.
The loss of 3,000 applications puts the livelihoods of the workers at risk and could slow commerce if workers can't get to the ports to do their jobs, he said.
"Eventually this has an impact on commerce, because the port industry is a busy industry, and having workers held up and not able to show up at work eventually does have an impact on ports," Wytkind said.