Transportation workers get new hurdle to climb for ID|[06/16/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 16, 2008

Daniel Stapp allowed himself plenty of time when stopping into the Vicksburg Transportation Workers Identification Credential office Thursday morning to enroll for a high-tech ID card the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is requiring all maritime transportation employees to hold by next spring.

Stapp had heard a lot of horror stories from his co-workers about the long wait times, especially for people like him who didn’t make an appointment to enroll.

“The word on the river is it’s a real hassle, and if you don’t have an appointment – well, good luck,” said the Sicily Island, La., resident who drove an hour and a half to enroll. “I’ve got three hours, but I hope it doesn’t take that long.”

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It doesn’t. Within 20 minutes, Stapp is called into a small room inside the single-wide trailer housing the Vicksburg TWIC office on Industrial Drive, near the Port of Vicksburg.

Dmitri Haynes, field coordinator with Lockheed Martin – the company contracted to operate TWIC enrollment – acknowledged enrollees have endured some long and frustrating experiences at the Vicksburg office since it opened Jan. 29. However, he said staffing upgrades, expanded hours and more workspace have created a much more efficient process in recent weeks.

“We’re averaging a 3-minute wait time for those who have appointments,” he said. “The average time it takes to actually enroll is 15 minutes if they’ve pre-enrolled.”

That’s not the experience had by many people who tried to enroll before the start of this month – at which point the Vicksburg office nearly tripled its staff, doubled its work stations, expanded daily operation hours by three hours and added weekend shifts.

“We’ve had some real big headaches,” said Stirlin Hancock, Golding Barge Line Human Resources manager. “Guys who have waited three, four and five hours on an appointment and didn’t even get enrolled. And some had driven up to three or four hours just to get to Vicksburg to try to enroll.”

Hancock said he is one of many Golding employees who have come up against some hard luck at the Vicksburg TWIC office. He was finally enrolled Thursday after visiting the office three previous times and wasting about a total of seven hours.

Of Golding’s 75 employees who have attempted to enroll, Hancock said roughly a dozen have actually received a TWIC card.

“I just hope the improvements they’ve made really work,” said Hancock. “Otherwise it could be a real problem for everyone come April 15.”

April 15, 2009, is the date all maritime employees will be required to have a TWIC card to be legally employed. The original compliance date was set for Sept. 25, but the Homeland Security Department pushed the date back in response to complaints from those in the maritime industry who said their employees could not be enrolled and issued a card in time – and by fault of their own.

“The whole country’s commerce was going to have to stop if they didn’t push the date back,” said Golding president Steve Golding. “Every company is in the same situation. It’s been extremely frustrating – one obstacle after another.”

To get a cardIf you need a transportation worker identification card, the Vicksburg TWIC office on Industrial Drive is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m .to 4 p.m on Saturday and Sunday. Online pre-enrollment is encouraged, and can be done at Appointments to enroll at the TWIC office are also encouraged, and can be made online or by calling 1-800-347-8942. The cost is $132.50. Those who have already enrolled can track their application status online at http://twicinformation.tsa.dhs.govThe TWIC card is required for all Coast Guard-credentialed merchant mariners, port facility employees, longshoremen and truck drivers. The program was ordered by Congress in 2002 amid fears terrorists might try to sneak weapons into the country via its seaports or commit acts of terrorism at them. Fingerprinting and criminal background checks are required in the enrollment process.

Vicksburg is one of 122 TWIC offices nationwide, with 147 planned to be operating by the end of the year. As of June 6, 2,989 people had enrolled for a TWIC card at the Vicksburg office, with 1,104 cards activated. Two visits to the Vicksburg TWIC office are required for workers to receive a card, one to enroll and another to activate the card. Nationwide, an estimated 1.2 million workers will need a TWIC card. Thus far, 331,042 people have enrolled, and 249,652 cards have been activated. A total of 6,352 enrollees have been disqualified from receiving a card, but of them 2,710 have been granted one through the program’s appeal process.

Initially, Haynes said 1,827 people were estimated to enroll for a TWIC card in Vicksburg, and it was that gross miscalculation that created so many problems in the past.

“We just weren’t ready for the demand, and that’s why we’ve made the changes we have,” he said.

Over the course of the next month Haynes said the Vicksburg office will be upgrading its technology software to reduce errors in fingerprint reading and file keeping that sometimes force people to start the entire process over after technical errors negated their first enrollment.

“That has really been the source of a lot of our problems,” Haynes said.