The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing this week examining whether U.S. ports and waterways are safer today than they were on 9/11.
The answer from witnesses was a qualified “yes.” They said things have indeed improved since Congress passed a maritime security law in 2002, and that the nation has in place a more comprehensive system of protecting itself from attacks in the U.S. maritime sector.
But among the caveats, and there are several significant ones, is a frustrating reminder of serious uncompleted business. Topping the list: the still unpublished rulemaking covering the requirement for vessels and ports to install TWIC readers that will verify the identity of the cardholder.
“Without the readers in place, we are forcing maritime employees to pay for something that does not serve its intended purpose and we are undermining security at our nation’s ports,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, chair of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee said at Tuesday’s hearing.
LoBiondo and others on his panel admonished the Department of Homeland Security at a similar hearing in July, when the DHS essentially refused to answer lawmakers’ questions and sent a representative ill-prepared to respond. LoBiondo barked his disapproval, gaveled the hearing to a brief recess and threatened to subpoena witnesses.
Since July, however, neither the committee nor DHS has made much progress in resolving the core issue: When will we see the proposed reader rule?
The Coast Guard, the DHS agency charged with the rulemaking, says it will happen “this fall.” But this is vague, and past promises have been unfulfilled. The rulemaking is already three years overdue from the original deadline to issue a final rule.
In the meantime, the majority of TWIC credentials are due to expire in the coming months, millions have been spent on an incomplete security program, cards that have been reported as lost, stolen, revoked or suspended can’t be identified, and U.S. ports remain vulnerable.