Marine Log

April 26, 2006

DHS to run background checks on port employees

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff yesterday announced plans for a personnel screening program that will require that people working in the ports and those who get daily access to port facilities receive background screening. They will then get a "tamper-proof biometric credential.

Initially, the background checks will be run against the terrorist watch list and will include a review of immigration status. For now, DHS seems to be backing away from running a check against criminal records.

Chertoff said the Coast Guard had exercised its legal authority to submit a notice requiring the background check and that the Transport Security Administration (TSA) would immediately begin conducting name-based background checks on all port workers operating at major U.S. ports.

Chertoff said "we've already been working and consulting with our industry partners to provide a process that will compare a worker's biographical information against our terrorist watch lists."

"Workers who we determine pose a security risk will be denied access to our nation's ports, " said Chertoff, who added that the checks will also include a review of a worker's immigration status, conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and supported at TSA.

The initial round of background checks will cover an estimated 400,000 port workers and will focus first on employees and longshoremen who have daily access to the security areas of port facilities.

Turning to the question of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, mandated by Congress, Chertoff said a testing phase that ended in June 2005 had proven the biometric technology incorporated in the TWIC can work in the field.

"We expect these cards will eventually be issued to some three-quarters of a million workers who have unescorted access to sensitive maritime facilities," said Chertoff. "TWIC will be deployed at all commercial ports in the United States. And background investigations and issuance of TWIC cards will be required not only for port facility workers, but for others that need to have regular, unescorted access to a secure facility, such as certain crew members, truck drivers and rail employees."

"To accomplish this task," said Chertoff, "we're going to be publishing in the very near future several rules that spell out the specific details of our proposed approach, and which will solicit views from the public regarding the final details of this plan.

In addition, we will, of course, conduct an open, competitive procurement to get proposals from qualified firms to do the technology portion of this effort so that we can make sure we have the best possible technology at the most economical price.'

"We're going to finish the required rule-making work, and complete the procurements in time to begin issuing these cards this year," said Chertoff.