The Coast Guard is still in the process of reviewing comments on its proposed rule for installing smart card readers at the nation’s highest risk seaport facilities and doesn’t expect the final rule for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) reader until sometime in 2015, according to a senior service official.

Handheld TWIC readers are used by the Coast Guard for random security checks at ports. Photo: TSA
Handheld TWIC readers are used by the Coast Guard for random security checks at ports. Photo: TSA

Adjustments are being made to the TWIC reader rule, which “hopefully” will be published next year, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for Prevention Policy, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He added that once the rule is published, there will be a two-year implementation period for affected facilities to purchase and deploy the readers, which will be used to help control access to secure areas of ports by maritime workers that have the biometric-enabled TWIC cards.

Thomas said that there have been about 2,600 comments on the proposed rule, which was released in March 2013. The final rule was expected to be published late in 2013. That expectation then changed to earlier this year and again to later this year.

Some port facilities have already purchased TWIC readers and the Coast Guard has a limited number of handheld readers it uses to randomly check TWIC cardholders at seaports. The final rule, while limited to regulated facilities and vessels deemed the highest risk of being involved in a transportation security incident, is expected to help open the market in the United States for smart card reader manufacturers.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued about 2.9 million TWIC cards since 2007.

Pilot tests of TWIC readers sponsored by the Coast Guard at some ports around the country demonstrated the value of deploying the technology, the service said at the conclusion of the testing. However, the Government Accountability Office has maintained that the Coast Guard’s evaluation of the reader pilots was incomplete a further assessment is needed.

The Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to address GAO’s recommendations but has no estimate on completion, Stephen Caldwell, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at GAO, stated in his prepared remarks for the Senate panel.