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Wednesday, December 1, 2021
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TWIC Background Checks Not as Reliable as They Could Be, DHS IG Says

With more than 3.5 million biometric Transportation Worker Identification Credentials (TWIC) cards to individuals needing unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels since October 2015, a Department of Homeland Inspector General (IG) audit found the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) “leadership, responsible for issuing, does not provide sufficient oversight and guidance to ensure that the TWIC program operates effectively.”

The TWIC population consists primarily of dockworkers, truckers, port employees, and US merchant mariners.

The IG’s audit follows a 2011 and 2013 audit by the Government Accountability Office which also identified weaknesses in TSA’s TWIC security background checks.

“Specifically,” the IG audit determined, within the background check process, which TSA calls the security threat assessment:

  • Fraud detection techniques are not monitored and used in completing the background check;
  • Adjudicators may grant TWICs even if questionable circumstances exist;
  • Key quality assurance and internal control procedures are missing from the background check and terrorism vetting processes; and
  • New efforts tested for continuous vetting for disqualifying criminal or immigration offenses lack measures to determine the best solution.

The IG stated that, “These issues exist, in part, because TSA leadership relies on the TWIC program office to implement necessary improvements; however, the TWIC program office focuses more on customer service than effectiveness of the program. Additionally, because of TSA’s organizational structure, the TWIC program office lacks visibility into and authority over the other offices within TSA that support the TWIC program. As a result, there is a risk that someone with major criminal or immigration offenses maintains access to secured areas of maritime facilities.”

TSA concurred with the recommendations and has already begun implementing corrective actions, the IG reported.

The IG stressed that, “TWIC is integral to the safety of the ports and other maritime facilities. Both private and public facility owners rely on TSA to conduct thorough background checks, which TSA refers to as security threat assessments, on individuals seeking jobs that require unaccompanied access to restricted areas. Having a TWIC alone (a sample of which is shown in figure 2) does not grant access to restricted areas. The person must also have a verified need to be in the area, which the respective facility authorizes.”

“TSA has known for years that therewere problems and I’m concerned that little has been done to address them,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fa.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. “These weaknesses have opened up our ports to potential security threats, including the opportunity for an insider threat or someone with a serious criminal history to gain access to secure areas. These gaps must be closed immediately to secure our ports and maritime facilities.”

The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 20021 (MTSA) requires all individuals who need unescorted access to MTSA regulated facilities obtain a biometric identification credential. TSA and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) established TWIC and jointly manage the TWIC program. TSA oversees the eligibility and the background check process and issues the card, while the USCG enforces the use of TWICs and other MTSA requirements at ports.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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