WASHINGTON, D.C.—Good afternoon. One of my top priorities as Chairman of this Committee is to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to protect our nation’s transportation systems and keep them safe from attack.
Just this week, we learned of a plot hatched by Osama bin Laden to plunge American rail cars off a bridge or into a valley. It is likely one of many attacks he plotted involving our nation’s transportation network. We know that these networks are prime terrorist targets. This includes our nation’s ports.
In 2002, Congress passed legislation to help shore up our nation’s port security. The legislation created a nationwide identification card for transportation workers, known as TWIC. The goal of TWIC was to make sure only certain people could gain access to secure maritime facilities. Among other things, it mandated background checks for all TWIC applicants.
But the GAO’s report on the TWIC program reveals significant shortcomings in how this program is run. According to their report, the TWIC program has a poor track record with internal controls—such as rooting out fraud in applications—and little accountability for how money is being spent and how effectively it is being used.
This lack of controls and safeguards is concerning. As the report reveals, GAO investigators were easily able to fraudulently obtain TWIC cards using false identification documents and use those cards to access secure areas of numerous ports.
Additionally, not enough has been done to ensure that TWIC holders maintain their eligibility. TSA is often unable to validate an applicant’s immigration status or ensure that TWIC holders haven’t committed disqualifying criminal offenses after receiving a TWIC.
This lack of oversight is disturbing. Also disturbing is the apparent lack of accountability over how funds for this program are being spent. More than $420 million have been spent on the TWIC program in the 10 years since its creation. According to GAO estimates, we’re slated to spend another $694 million to $3.2 billion on it in the next 10 years.
But, as the GAO report shows, this money is being spent without proper cost controls or a cost-benefit analysis. No one has bothered to study whether less costly port security measures might work better than TWIC.
I want the TWIC program to live up to its mandate. I want our nation’s ports to be more secure. But as today’s report reveals, things need to change—and fast. The program needs stronger fraud controls. We also need to take a clear, hard look at whether we are getting enough return on our investment. Is the money we’re spending on TWIC being used wisely? Are there other security programs that would cost less but work as well as TWIC? These are questions we need answers to.
In the coming months, I will introduce a port security authorization bill which will address shortcomings in port security credentialing. I look forward to working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Government Accountability Office, as well as our stakeholder community to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep our ports secure and our travelers safe.