As most people in the business are aware from a number of sources (blog or blog or Congress), on Friday and over the weekend, the folks at DHS have established a one-time renewal policy to get current TWIC holders a relatively easy extension of their Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) to hold them over through the publication of a TWIC Reader rule. Yesterday the Transportation Security Administration published an exemption to certain TWIC related rules in the Federal Register (77 FR 36406 -36408). This notice provides the official details about what everyone has been talking about.
The TSA describes the basis for the exemption this way:
“This exemption will contribute to providing safe and efficient transportation while ensuring the efficient use and conservation of the resources of the United States. Due to the fact that [TWIC] readers are not yet required by regulation or in widespread use, we believe the burden associated with the full renewal requirements is not currently justified. The exemption permits eligible individuals to pay lower fees, reduce trips to an enrollment center, and avoid providing new biometric and biographic enrollment information when they request the card.”
Individuals may qualify for this exemption if they are US national (“includes U.S. citizens and noncitizen nationals of the United States”) and hold a valid TWIC that will expire on or before December 31st, 2014. Qualified individuals have the option of requesting a three-year renewal of their TWIC as long as they currently meet all other requirements for holding a TWIC. Individuals may request a three-year extension by telephone and only make one trip to the enrollment center to activate the new TWIC. The three-year extension will not require a full fee; the requesting individual will only have to pay the typical $60 cost for replacing a lost or damaged card.
Two years ago the Coast Guard was supposed to have published a final rule covering the use of TWIC Readers. Because of delays in conducting the required field trials, complications in getting OMB approval, and probably other un-enumerated reasons, the NPRM for this rule is expected sometime later this year and it is unlikely that a final rule will become effective by the time the initial issue of TWICs expires.
Congress has been trying, ineffectively, to get the TWIC Reader rule implemented since without the ability to biometrically verify the identity of the holder the TWIC is just another photo ID. A number of pieces of legislation currently under consideration have provisions that would require the Secretary to come up with some sort of plan to extend the current TWIC registration until the TWIC Reader rule becomes effective. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any of those bills will actually have a chance to become law before the election this fall.
This is actually a pretty innovative move by TSA. In a relatively simple document this answers most of the concerns being mentioned in Congress about the TWIC. It limits the cost by not performing another STA on existing TWIC holders as would be required for a normal renewal. It only requires single trip to the enrollment center by allowing a telephone call to initiate the renewal process while still requiring a personal appearance to activate the card. The only concern not specifically addressed is setting the expiration of the card to the expiration of legal residency documents for non-citizens.
It will be interesting to see if this exemption provides and political incentive to proceed on any of the pending TWIC related bills.