- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Transportation companies or their employees are likely to be required to pay for new security identification cards planned by the federal government in the coming months, a top Transportation Department official said yesterday.
The "smart cards" are intended to restrict access to passenger boarding areas, loading docks, airport work sites and other secure areas.
"We're looking at all forms of transportation," said Adm. James W. Underwood, the department's director of intelligence and security. He mentioned as examples airlines, maritime shipping companies, railroads, pipelines and the trucking industry.
Transportation workers with criminal backgrounds could lose their jobs or be disqualified as applicants, he said.
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta will decide who pays for the cards after studies are completed on costs of the program, which would take at least another "30 to 60 days," Mr. Underwood said.
"We have identified costs in the range of $25 to $50 per person per card," he said.
The closest similar security identification cards are used by the Defense Department under a $200 million program, he said.
Mr. Underwood was the lead witness at a hearing yesterday of the House Coast Guard and maritime transportation subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Port officials said their primary concern about increased security is getting stuck with paying for another government program.
"Generally speaking, people in the port community would support heightened security," said Kate Philips, spokeswoman for the Port of Baltimore. "The concern is an unfunded mandate."
In recent months, the Port of Baltimore has put more effort into restricting access to docks and checking the cargo on ships before they reach the port.
"Prior to September 11, ports focused primarily on preventing theft and accidents," Miss Philips said. "September 11 has put terrorism on our agenda."
The Transportation Department would require the electronic security card for workers in all transportation systems, whether air, land or sea. It would be encoded with a biometric description of the workers to prevent forgery or fraud. Biometrics refers to using a unique part of the anatomy to identify a person, such as a fingerprint.
The card for transportation workers is a first step toward a "trusted traveler" card for airline passengers. Cardholders could bypass elaborate searches at airport checkpoints to help speed up passage through lines.
So far, most transportation security has focused on airlines and on preventing a repeat of the September 11 attack. Witnesses at the congressional hearing yesterday said similar protections should be directed at the nation's ports.
The new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will administer the program under the $4.8 billion budget proposed by the Bush administration this month.
The agency is in charge of coordinating all transportation security programs, including baggage screening at airports, high-tech monitoring of cargo in trucks, emergency responses to hazardous materials spills and identifying new strategies to stop terrorism and other criminal acts.
In the last months of 2001, Congress appropriated $1.25 billion for the TSA's startup costs. About half of next year's budget will be paid through new taxes and fees on airlines and their passengers.
The U.S. Coast Guard controls security at ports. The Bush administration wants to increase the Coast Guard budget by $1 billion, including $400 million for port security.
The Transportation Department also is considering a rule that would disqualify from employment transportation workers who have been imprisoned in the previous five years or have felony convictions within the last seven years. Some current employees could lose their jobs, Mr. Underwood conceded under questioning from the congressmen.
"Are we going to decimate our workforce at the ports and harbors because they did something foolish years before?" asked Rep. Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican.
Mr. Underwood said the disqualification rule was not intended to lead to layoffs, but merely to protect national security. He mentioned the risk of terrorism created by "a small group of individuals who have infiltrated the port."
Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, asked, "Let's say it's a bar fight, should they be eliminated?"
Mr. Underwood said only 25 felonies that represent the greatest security risk would disqualify workers.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide