WASHINGTON - Just in time for the
holidays, Uncle Sam is serving up its version of a gift to the maritime
industry. The Coast Guard this week sent the long-awaited proposed rule for
TWIC readers to the Office of Management and the Budget for final review.
This is a significant and
long-overdue step that moves the process closer to a finale after nearly three
years of delays that has frustrated vessel operators and called into question
the security value of this post-9/11 federal security program.
The Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking (NPRM) was sent to OMB on Nov. 16, and the agency has 90 days to
act. If OMB proposes no changes, the reader rule could be published in the Federal Register
around March 2013, according to Brian Vahey of the American Waterways Operators.
“The reader rulemaking has
been a long time coming and we’re anxious to see what it says,” Vahey said.
“The ANPRM was OK, but had some areas where it can definitely be improved, and
we hope the Coast Guard has done so.”
The Coast Guard will hold
at least two public meetings on the NPRM, one on the East Coast and another on
the West Coast, with additional meetings elsewhere possible. “There should be a
lot of opportunities for industry to express their point of view,” Vahey said.
The TWIC program continues
to be unpopular with the maritime industry. Several maritime unions advocate
its repeal. Recently, the Passenger Vessel Association called on Congress to
re-evaluate the program because it has been “inefficient in promoting security
and highly burdensome to passenger vessel operators and U.S. mariners.”
PVA said three of its
companies participated in a pilot program to test the readers, which are
supposed to verify the validity of TWIC credentials. The passenger vessel
operators reported that they derived no security enhancements from TWIC
Congress is also unhappy.
Enacted in 2002, the program continues to spend “hundreds of millions of
taxpayer dollars,” Rep. John Mica, R-FL, chairman of the House Transportation
Committee, said at a recent congressional hearing. Delays in publishing the
reader rule have cost taxpayers $3.2 billion and left the nation’s ports
unsecured, he said.