Sunday, June 17, 2012

HR 4251 Reported in House – Port Security

Early this week the House Homeland Security Committee filed their report on HR 4251, the SMART Port Security Act. Since the Committee publishes the full text of amendments they consider we don’t have any surprises in the language of the bill in the report. So that means the only reason to review the Report is to see the explanations that the Committee provides for the provisions of the bill; this helps explain congressional intent.

Maritime Security Redundancies

In my initial blog post on this bill I noted that the provision in §104 for a GAO review of DHS port security program to identify overlapping provisions might identify such an overlap between the MTSA and CFATS programs in port areas. The explanation of this provision (pg 19) does not specifically mention CFATS. That doesn’t mean that the GAO report won’t address the issue.

TWIC Provisions

There are four TWIC provisions in this bill. They are:

Sec 205: Transportation Worker Identification Credential Process Reform;

Sec 206: Expiration of Certain Transportation Worker Identification Credentials;

Sec 207: Securing the Transportation Worker Identification Credential Against Use by Unauthorized Aliens; and

Sec 208: Report on Federal Transportation Security Credentialing Programs.

The Committee takes a very narrow view of the TWIC process, focusing on the ‘burden’ on the workers (and this is a Republican Congress). They note (pg 23):

“The Committee believes that the current requirement to visit a TWIC enrollment center multiple times is an onerous, unnecessary, burden for workers in the maritime industry, such as merchant vessel operators and truck drivers, who rely on obtaining the credential for employment.”

They ignore the security aspects of what is, at base, a security document. A year ago the Government Accounting Office looked at the security implications of mailing the TWIC card instead of having applicants come in and activate the card at a TWIC issuing center. They concluded that this could compromise the integrity of the TWIC system. Security is frequently inconvenient; politicians need to learn this before it is too late.

The provisions of §206 would extend all current TWIC expirations until the final TWIC Reader rule is published. The idea being that the TWIC isn’t really a TWIC until the biometric features available only through TWIC Readers come into full use. Congress tried mandating a date for the publication of the TWIC Reader rule, but DHS has diligently ignored that requirement. Now this section is designed to “provide the Department motivation to issue the rule at the earliest possible date” (pg 23); kind of sad actually.

Section 207 would require proof of US citizenship or legal residency at the time of application or renewal of TWIC. It would also require the expiration of TWICs issued to legal residents to expire no later than the expiration of their residency documents. The Committee is trying to “ensure all TWIC holders are authorized to work and are lawfully present in the U.S.” (pg 23).

The final TWIC section deals with harmonizing the background checks (known as ‘security threat assessments’ or STAs) for are a number of identification documents that issued by DHS. Each document has a slightly different STA requirement set by regulation. TSA has a regulation in the works that is supposed to address this issue (RIN 1652-AA61; Standardized Vetting, Adjudication, and Redress Services), but it has been in the works for a while. The Committee Report notes that:

“The Committee believes the Department should issue the Universal Rule as soon as possible, in order to reduce the unnecessary cost and duplicative regulatory burden on transportation workers.” (pg 24)

Way Forward

This bill was passed with broad bipartisan support in the Homeland Security Committee. This is a bill that has a decent chance of making it to the floor of the House before the Summer Recess, but making it through the Senate is more problematic because of the approaching election. It wouldn’t face any real opposition, but it isn’t ‘important’ enough to make it through the election year wrangling.

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