TWIC Help Desk Not Up To Standards
Mismanagement of the TWIC help desk, the contractor-run telephone service that is supposed to help workers and employers with problems related to the Transportation Worker Identification Card, is having a profoundly negative effect on the men and women who comprise “the valuable eyes and ears of our nation’s transportation system,” says U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in June, Thompson called the TWIC help desk “yet another example of a poorly designed and managed program.”
Thompson said his office had received complaints about the help desk from transportation workers across the country. Some said they had been put on hold for hours only to receive incorrect or misleading information from the person on the other end of the phone.
Thompson said he had received reports that some companies were considering hiring additional administrative staffers specifically to help employees deal with the TWIC help desk, Megayacht News reports.
Thompson called on Chertoff to detail the remedial measures DHS has asked the contractor, Lockheed Martin, to take. Thompson also asked Chertoff whether Lockheed Martin or the American taxpayer will foot the bill for the attempt to fix the help desk.
“This failure exposes yet another flaw in an already troubled program,” Thompson said in a statement released to the press. “The help desk was established to be the primary means of communication between the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and more than a million transportation workers. But the phones are ringing and nobody’s home. DHS must improve its oversight of this program if it hopes to salvage TWIC and prevent another contract management fiasco.”
In letters to Lockheed Martin, the government said that at the beginning of May, the average caller wait-time for TWIC help desk contacts was more than 20 minutes and that 70 percent of callers generally give up after spending eight minutes on hold.
Eight out of 12 machines used to produce the TWIC cards have been returned to the manufacturer for repairs, according to a separate statement from Thompson’s office. The shortage of machines has increased production time tenfold, from one day to 10.
“At this juncture, it is difficult to determine which is more astonishing – the fact that the facility producing these cards is experiencing a 66 percent machine failure rate or the fact that this machine failure rate has resulted in a tenfold increase in the card production schedule,” Thompson wrote in his letter.
A spokesman for the TSA said in mid-June that the broken TWIC printing machines were expected to be back online in a matter of days.
New England ports are required to implement the TWIC in advance of the new April 15, 2009, compliance date. U.S. licensed mariners calling on those ports will need only to show their merchant mariner’s document (MMD) or license, plus a photo ID, until the nationwide deadline goes into effect next year.
The U.S. Coast Guard detailed the requirement applicable to mariners calling at New England ports during a recent conference call for TWIC stakeholders. The three Captain of the Port zones required to be in compliance with TWIC regulations by Oct. 15 of this year are Northern New England, Boston and Southern New England.
According to Megayacht News, the Coast Guard said it selected these three ports for advance implementation based on favorable conditions, including: geographic proximity, the size of their TWIC enrollment population and respective enrollment efforts to date.
The Coast Guard said that in coming weeks, it will announce additional ports slated for early compliance. The agency has said it will provide at least 90 days notice prior to enforcement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to reimburse members of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots for the cost of the TWIC.