In this second week of the Congressional Spring Break I am going back and catching up on some legislative items that I have missed so far this year. The first one will be the passage of HR 710 in the House of HR 710, the Essential Transportation Worker Identification Credential Assessment Act. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jackson-Lee and was passed under suspension of the rules with a voice vote on February 10th.
This bill is nearly identical to HR 3202 introduced in the 113th Congress. That bill also passed in the House with strong bipartisan support, but it was not taken up in the Senate.
The new bill would also require an independent study of the efficacy of the Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) and the creation/execution of a plan to fix any problems noted in the study. All of this would have to be accomplished before the DHS Secretary could move forward with a final rule on requiring the use of electronic readers for MTSA access using the TWIC.
It is not clear at this point if the bill will be considered by the Senate. Normally one would expect better consideration of House bills in this session, but the sponsor is a Democrat so it will not receive an automatic pass. We will have to wait and see if someone steps up to champion the bill. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has not yet taken up the bill, but it has only had one business meeting since this bill was adopted. HR 710 did not make the short list for house bills to be considered at that meeting, but the two that were considered were passed before HR 710.
If it does make it to the floor of the Senate, I expect that it would be considered under unanimous consent rules at the end of a daily session where it would certainly pass. There is just too much congressional angst about this program.
Congress has an interesting love-hate relationship with the TWIC program. On one hand it has been vigorously championed as a viable of the CFATS personnel surety program. But Congress has taken a lot of guff from transportation workers about how complicated the process is to get a TWIC and they have responded to those complaints.
Last session they passed a measure that required DHS to establish a program where they mailed the TWIC to applicants instead of requiring them to appear at the ‘local’ TWIC issuing facility to pick up the credential. The problem there was that ‘local’ really should be read as ‘nearest’ and that could be a couple of hundred miles away if an applicant was not near one of the major ports in this country. Laurie Thomas at MTSANews has reported on recent problems with that mail delivery process.
The other big problem with the TWIC is the slow progress that DHS has made getting the TWIC Readers into play. Without a way to electronically verify the TWIC and the identity of the person presenting the TWIC, this becomes just another ID Card. Congress initially chastised DHS about the slow pace of the initial TWIC Reader study, but as the study progressed and more problems became evident, both with the study design and the efficacy of the TWIC and the Readers, and the cost of implementing the Readers became evident, there has been more resistance to the whole TWIC program.
It is beginning to look like the whole TWIC program is in need of a major overhaul and that is the point of this bill. What is not clear, at this point, is if DHS can develop a plan for fixing the program that will pass muster in Congress, who are hearing complaints about the TWIC program from both labor and management. If not, the TWIC will continue in place as an expensive and ineffective identification card program because replacing it from scratch will be way too expensive and politically challenging.