Stephen M. Lord, director of Homeland Security and Justice for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), testified before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Government Operations, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card reader pilot results, saying that they were unreliable and the security benefits of the program should be reassessed.
This report looks at the TWIC reader pilot that was conducted from August 2008 to May 2011, where Homeland Security tested a variety of readers and the credentialing authentication and validation process at volunteer facilities and vessels. The pilot hoped to test the technology, business processes and operational impacts of deploying card readers at maritime facilities and see its effectiveness, particularly in a harsh maritime environment where dirt, salt, wind and rain could easily wreak havoc with the cards and readers.
Lord’s testimony is the latest in a series of reports on the TWIC pilot. In its November 2009 report, the GAO found that the pilot plan and its data collection and reporting methods weren’t sound, which affected the accuracy and completeness of the results. The GAO found that Homeland Security did not make the necessary corrections to its trial, which has led the GAO to continue its assessment that the pilot produces unreliable data and shouldn’t be used in creating regulation.
In its findings, the GAO notes eight areas of weakness in the pilot program, including the readers’ and access control systems’ ability to collect the required data, incomplete documentation about the readers’ characteristics and incomplete information on malfunctioning TWIC cards. Additionally, GAO found that Transportation Security Administration reports on 31 of the 34 pilot sites did not match what the testing agent reported. Neither entity recorded baseline data, instances of denied access, consistent data on the operational impact of the system or complete information about the design of the readers and access control systems.
The TSA noted that consistency among pilot locations proved to be one of the challenges during the testing period due to the voluntary participation nature of the project. It also blamed the independent test agent for incorrectly gathering data and allowing for inconsistencies.
Nevertheless, the GAO still found the TWIC pilot results too unreliable and recommended that Congress consider repealing the aspect of the final regulations that require TWIC card implementation until DHS can complete an accurate and effective assessment of the system.