Twic Revisited

A consultant asks: Can it get its airport credentials back? The answer is ‘yes’


The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) was dismissed by the aviation community, but there is a way to make it work effectively for both the industry and government. Here is a proposed business model in which aviation and government can cooperate to achieve reduced operating costs and enhanced security. It’s based on a reconsideration of TWIC and its role in the aviation community, and relates to recent Transportation Security Administration (TSA) initiatives such as the Aviation Credential Interoperable Solution (ACIS).

First, a review of what TWIC was originally intended to be and why the aviation community shunned it.

We begin with the successful Common Access Card (CAC) implemented throughout the Department of Defense (DOD) around the turn of the millennium. At about that time, the Universal Access Card, endorsed by the airline crews for common credentialing, had pretty much breathed its last.

The newly minted Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was also looking for a common credential that it could use in its domain. Every transportation employee would be issued a badge whose form, fit, and function would be dictated by the federal government. Mode by mode, the response to this program varied. In shipping ports and rail yards, TWIC promised to authenticate itinerant truck drivers where no existing credentialing alternative presented itself.

At airports, however, the response was chilly. As an industry, access control security was very mature, including a healthy partnership with FAA on setting standards. The access control systems (ACS) were installed and the processes for badge issuance and revocation well understood — and operational. Further, on the heels of the Screening System and Checkpoint deployment projects, the industry had more than its fill of federal mandates.

The aviation rebuttal focused on two points:

  • There was already an extensive ACS infrastructure, and no money on either side of the debate to retrofit several hundred thousand door readers and several hundred ACS head ends.
  • Second, airports have a wide variety of credential layouts which, by agreement with the feds, were changed when unaccounted credentials reached a certain limit. So, it was not possible for all airports to use a common access card, such as TWIC.

A Need for Cross-Credentialing
In the first half of this decade we sorted out checkpoints, baggage systems, fingerprinting all employees, and a host of other aviation security issues.

Amid that frenzy, a basic concept was never fully discussed by both sides of the TWIC debate. The simple point was that TWIC does not need to replace airport badges, but it can facilitate cross-credentialing.

Cross-credentialing is the acceptance of one party’s successful adjudication by another party which has similar credentialing responsibilities. It is not common credentialing, such as the DOD CAC card, but it can be an effective alternative.

Many types of airport workers are credentialed at more than one airport. As airport and transportation consultants, many of us have had a full ‘ten-print’ taken several times each year. In my case, it has been seven in the last 24 months. At least five of these were processed by the same clearinghouse, analyzed by the same federal agency, and checked in the same criminal records database.

This multiple credentialing requires that employees that cross-credential carry a variety of documents with them all the time — passport, driver’s license, even social security cards and/or birth certificates. There’s a tremendous security risk in carrying all of this critical documentation all the time.

But consultants are not the only community to benefit from cross-credentialing. Air crews have long been interested in airport access at multiple airports. The Universal Access Card was their attempt to gain a single credential. Many have endured the tedious process necessary to obtain multiple airport badges. Maintenance workers often are credentialed at multiple airports. More than one company has expressed frustration that new employees spend the first three weeks of their employment getting credentialed at the multiple airports they will need to serve. The cost to industry and the aggravation to individuals caused by this inefficiency should be blatantly apparent.

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