By Calvin Biesecker

Officials from seaports in the United States told Congress this week that demand for mandatory new federal worker identification credentials significantly outstrips the U.S. government’s expectations, potentially disrupting port operations during the enrollment process.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) estimates that about 30,000 workers at the Port of Houston, Texas, will need Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) whereas port authorities believe 350,000 workers will need a TWIC card, Wade Battles, managing director of the Port of Houston Authority, told the House Homeland Security Maritime subcommittee on Tuesday.

For the Port of New York/New Jersey, TSA has estimated that just over 60,000 workers will need a TWIC card while the Port’s estimate is closer to 125,000, Beth Ann Rooney, the security director at the Port of New York/New Jersey, told the full House Homeland Security yesterday during a separate hearing.

Rooney said it could take upward of several hours for port workers to get to and from TWIC enrollment centers and the same amount of time for them to retrieve their cards once they are ready. On top of that, employers of port workers are concerned about tort liability if any of their workers are injured while traveling to and from the enrollment centers, she said.

TSA and the Coast Guard began enrolling workers for TWIC at the Port of Wilmington, Del., last month and workers at the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, today. By the end of September 2008, TWIC enrollment centers are slated to be in place at every sea and river port in the United States. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is supporting TSA on TWIC, managing both credential enrollment and card issuance.

TSA has bounded TWIC enrollment at between 750,000 and 1.5 million workers, although Lockheed Martin’s contract assumes the lower end of the range through next September. But TSA and Lockheed Martin told the House panel that the company has the flexibility to meet higher than expected demand for TWIC credentials.

Current plans call for 147 fixed-enrollment sites and a number of mobile enrollment centers that can be adapted to meet a particular port’s needs. Additional hours, staff, work shifts, mobile centers and as a last resort fixed sites, are the ways Lockheed Martin would deal with a surge in demand for TWIC cards at any port, Judith Marks, president of Lockheed Martin’s Transportations and Security Solutions business, told the committee yesterday.

The cost for each worker to obtain a TWIC card is $132.50, with a portion of that fee going to Lockheed Martin.

At Tuesday’s hearing, which covered TWIC and other components of port security, the port representative for the Teamsters union warned that until card reading technology is in place to control access into and around seaports under TWIC, there will likely be counterfeit credentials used to gain entrance into ports.

Using the Port of Oakland in California as an example, Robert Blanchet said truck drivers typically gain access to the terminals by flashing their Commercial Drivers License to the security guard, usually without the card being looked at. Moreover, he said, if a guard recognizes a driver, the driver is waved in.

"And that security guard has no way of knowing that the driver he just let through the gate has a forged CDL," Blanchet told the House Homeland Security Maritime subcommittee on Tuesday. Outside the Port of Oakland is typically a "white van" where an "entrepreneur" can forge a CDL for someone within a few hours for about $400, he said.

Under TWIC workers submit biographic and biometric data, consisting of 10 fingerprints and a digital facial photograph, which is used for purposes of a background check. The data is also stored on their TWIC cards.

Next year TSA and the Coast Guard are expected to begin pilot programs at five or more ports where they will trial card reader technology. Workers will be expected to put their card near the reader and then place a finger on fingerprint device installed in the reader to verify that the person carrying the TWIC is the same person whose biometric data is stored on the card. When that reader technology will be installed at all ports isn’t known although some in Congress and industry believe it will take several years.

Blanchet expects forgeries of TWIC cards to appear until that reader technology is in place.

"I would maintain that when TWIC is implemented in the Port of Oakland, until card readers are installed, nothing will change," Blanchet said. "Nothing will change because the TWIC will be forged within 48 hours. It won’t have a fancy chip or a biometric identifier in it, but on its face, it will be good enough to fool the security guard, especially the ones who don’t even bother to closely examine it. And it won’t present itself as any layer of security if guards continue to wave drivers through without even looking at the credential."

TSA disputes that it will be easy to forge a TWIC. Kip Hawley, the TSA Administrator, told the committee yesterday that the card has multiple layers of security, making the "worst nightmare" for forgers to copy. Moreover, the Coast Guard is acquiring handheld card readers for conducting random spot checks at every port until fixed card readers are installed, he said.