WASHINGTON - Just a few weeks before Christmas, the lame
duck Congress has presented a gift to the maritime community.
As one of the last pieces of legislation before adjourning
for the year, lawmakers passed and sent to the president the 2013 Coast Guard
Authorization bill, which would eliminate the inconvenient and costly second
trip to the TWIC enrollment center.
The president is expected to sign the bill shortly.
The action – sought for more than a year by maritime
groups like the American Waterways Operators – comes at a crucial time.
Thousands of TWIC cards will expire over the next few months and two million
more over the next three years.
Under current TSA rules, mariners would be required to
make two trips to an enrollment center – one to apply for the TWIC and a second
to pick up the credential, should they opt for a five-year extension. The TSA
also offers a three-year extension that is handled by phone and requires only
one trip to a center to pick up and activate the card.
Mariners and other transportation workers said the
two-trip requirement was costly and unnecessary, especially if they live or
work long distances from enrollment centers and work in jobs that require long
trips away from home.
It’s not clear yet how mariners will receive their
cards. Many are hoping that TSA will set up a system to put them in the mail.
The legislation does not specify this, leaving it up to the Department of
Homeland Security to figure out. In the past, TSA has maintained that the
second trip was necessary to ensure that the person picking up the card is in
fact the cardholder.
“When other secure identity documents, such as passports
and merchant mariner credentials can be returned to qualified applicants by
mail, transportation workers should not be required to make two trips to an
enrollment center,” said Rep. Steve Scalice, R-La., who sponsored the reform as
part of the Coast Guard bill.
“It’s time to modernize the TWIC program,” he added.
TWIC cards have been required since 2007 for anyone who
needs to gain unescorted access to secure areas of maritime facilities and
vessels for their jobs.
The program has been fraught with problems since the
start, and has drawn fire from Congress, mariners and the transportation
industry. Passage of this legislation underscores this disappointment and
“We now have a unified message from Congress that there
are major aspects of the TWIC program that simply aren’t working for millions
of men and women across the country,” said Brian Vahey of AWO’s legislative
staff. “The bipartisan leadership from lawmakers in pushing this provision has
He said DHS has mobilized a multiple-department effort to
review TWIC and officials are meeting with industry stakeholders.
Coast Guard bill also extends the duration of medical certificates so that
mariners can continue to work while the Coast Guard reduces its backlog of MMD