TSA’S Biometric Card Program Still Not Ready, GAO Says

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, after more than a decade of work, hasn’t developed reliable technology to control port access with biometric identification cards, the Government Accountability Office said.

A pilot program ordered by Congress in 2010 to fix card readers was so riddled with errors that lawmakers should push back their deadline for issuing a final regulation, the GAO said in a report released today. The cards were first ordered in a law passed 11 years ago.

TSA and the Coast Guard, which manage the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program for the Homeland Security Department, didn’t record clear baselines and didn’t track malfunctioning TWIC cards, the GAO said.

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is holding a subcommittee hearing tomorrow on TSA’s efforts to implement TWIC. Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican who held a series of hearings on the TSA last year when he led the House transportation committee, will preside.

The GAO examined the program under a mandate included in a 2010 law that reauthorized the Coast Guard. The Homeland Security Department reported the findings of the pilot program to Congress in February 2012.

Millions Enrolled

More than 2.5 million workers are enrolled in the program and almost 2.3 million credentials have been issued, according to a TSA website. Users, such as truck drivers, pay $129.75 for the card, which is valid for five years.

The cards were initially required by Congress in 2002 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In a previous May 2011 study, GAO’s undercover investigators with fake TWIC cards were waived into secure port areas.

TSA is working to understand GAO concerns with TWIC and to “assess the potential benefits and challenges of requiring reader use,” agency spokesman David Castelveter said in an e-mail. The agency is enhancing customer service, reviewing smart-card technology and overhauling the program’s administration, he said.

An acquisition review board met in March and will continue to meet regularly to continue the program’s overhaul, Castelveter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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