U.S. to Begin Test of Transportation Worker Identity Cards
LA Times | November 18 2004
In a move to tighten the nation's security, federal officials announced the launch Wednesday of a worker identification program that would eventually require background checks and identification cards for 6 million truck drivers, dock workers and cargo handlers at U.S. ports, airports and railways.
The new security effort will begin on a trial basis at three dozen sites throughout the country, including Los Angeles International Airport, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and eight other port-related locations in Southern California.
About 200,000 workers at these locales will be required to undergo federal background checks to determine whether they have criminal records or are included on any terrorism-related watch lists. They also will be issued identification cards required for entry to sensitive transportation hubs. The cards will be linked to an individual's "biometric" imprint — either a fingerprint, a handprint or an iris scan of the eye — so that lost or stolen cards cannot be used by anyone else.
At a news conference Wednesday at the Port of Long Beach, Asa Hutchinson, a top official in the Department of Homeland Security, called the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program "a significant enhancement that will prevent terrorists and other unauthorized persons from gaining access to sensitive areas of the nation's transportation system."
Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, said his department would develop "very careful standards" to assure that individuals would be deemed security risks only when their backgrounds included criminal histories that had a possible link to terrorism or other serious crimes.
He said that federal officials would work closely with employers and unions to not only enhance security but "protect an individual's right to privacy."
But Dave Arian, president of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union, Local 13 in Long Beach, said he was concerned about the federal government's history of allowing politics to affect security decisions.
"During the 1950s and the McCarthy era, the government screened our people off the docks because of their politics, not because they were a security risk,'' Arian said after Hutchinson's news conference.
"We hope this administration is beyond that and we believe they are," Arian said. "But we want to make sure people's rights are protected."
At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the background checks could apply to as many as 8,000 truckers and almost twice that many full-time and part-time longshoremen, he said.
The initial phase of the program, administered by the Transportation Security administration, is expected to last seven months.
At present, officials say, no standardized requirements exist for issuing identification cards to the millions of individuals with access to cargo areas, fuel depots and other transportation areas that could be exploited by terrorists.The folly of that approach was evident about a month ago when U.S. security officials on the East Coast discovered that a truck driver licensed to transport hazardous materials was linked to several suspects in an ongoing terrorism investigation involving the FBI and Homeland Security.
Under the new worker-identification program, a background check could be completed within a day, with the goal of issuing new identification cards within 72 hours, officials said.
For the first part of the pilot program, officials are hoping to get truckers and other transportation workers to voluntarily participate.
But Hutchinson and other officials made clear Wednesday that many details must be ironed out over the next seven months of testing the new system.