GAO blasts TSA on security cards

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has failed to set up worker identification cards that reliably control access to the nation’s ports, a government watchdog reported this week.

The cards were intended to improve port security, but the scathing report from the Government Accountability Office said the TSA has failed to resolve technological problems with the cards, which it said are based on “inaccurate and unreliable” information.

The report recommended that lawmakers delay a final regulation on the agency’s Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) “until the successful completion of a security assessment of the effectiveness of using TWIC.”

The GAO said the reader problems “call into question the program's premise and effectiveness in enhancing security.”

GAO was testing TSA’s pilot program for the cards, which were originally required by a law was approved 11 years ago.

Lawmakers said the report showed the TSA was wasting money on the transportation worker ID cards.

"I am greatly concerned that despite DHS investing $544 million and 11 years in the TWIC program, the program continues to suffer from fundamental problems that undermine its ability to provide the security benefits Congress intended," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. "Meanwhile, port workers and industry stakeholders have invested their time, effort, and money into this troubled program, holding up their end of the bargain."

Thompson also said it might be time to pull the plug on the program.

“After years of oversight of the TWIC program, I concur with GAO's recommendation that an effectiveness assessment of the security benefits of TWICs and the use of biometric readers must occur before the American people are expected to invest additional money in this program," he said. "We cannot continue to throw good money after bad with this program."

TSA said it was working to improve the transportation worker ID program by looking at other "smart-card" technologies.

Here's the full TSA statement: 

"DHS established a working group to better understand current concerns about the TWIC program and to assess the potential benefits and challenges of requiring reader use, addressing the GAO recommendation, while working to enhance the program by substantially enhancing customer service, reviewing standards-based smart card technology, overhauling administration of the TWIC program, and ensuring successful and seamless transition among contractors. 

"To facilitate this effort, DHS initiated a program evaluation through a formal DHS Acquisition Review Board that met in March 2013 and will continue to meet on a regular basis to overhaul the administration of the TWIC program and address remaining challenges." 

The full GAO can be read here.

—This post was updated with new information at 12:38 p.m.