Playing the TWIC Card

If you are a courier in or near a port city, you have had to weigh the importance of obtaining a Transportation Worker Identification Credential. Some say the port ID allows them more freedom to do their jobs; others say it’s a costly anchor.

The TWIC, implemented in October 2007, is a common identification credential for all personnel requiring unescorted access to secure areas of facilities and vessels regulated by the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act, and all mariners holding Coast Guard-issued credentials. Individuals who meet TWIC eligibility requirements will be issued a tamper-resistant credential containing the worker’s biometric (fingerprint) template to allow for a positive link between the card and the individual. The program is administered by the Transportation Safety Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

Before issuing a TWIC, TSA must conduct a security threat assessment on the TWIC applicant. An applicant who, as a result of the assessment, is determined to not pose a security threat, will be issued a TWIC.

Each applicant for a TWIC must provide biographic information, identity documents, biometric information (fingerprints), sit for a digital photograph, and pay the established TWIC fee of $129.75. The credential is valid for five years; the fee is reduced if the applicant has already completed a background check for a comparable credential. and the TWIC expires when the comparable credential does.

TSA will send pertinent parts of the enrollment record to the FBI, as well as within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), so that appropriate terrorist threat, criminal history, and immigration checks can be performed. TSA will review the results of the checks to determine if the person poses a security threat, and will notify the applicant of the results. When TSA determines that an applicant qualifies to receive a TWIC, a credential will be produced and sent to the enrollment center at which the applicant applied. The applicant will return to the enrollment center for issuance and activation of the TWIC.

Eric Donaldson, president of Hot Shot Delivery in Houston and a member of the Messenger Courier Association of America, makes regular trips to the Port of Houston. He calls the credential requirement a ridiculous regulation for couriers that does not advance the safety or security at the port.

“For large trucks or chemical [delivery] or railcars, sure,” Donaldson said. “But for a courier, it’s an absolutely unnecessary hurdle.”

James “Jimbo” Wright, an MCAA member with the Wilmington Records Center & Supply Chain Support in Wilmington, N.C., got a TWIC because a major vendor asked him to obtain it. He already had acquired a Security Threat Assessment credential to have access to airport terminals, a credential also administered by the TSA.

“It’s been a little over a year now and I haven’t used [the TWIC] a single time,” Wright said. “For comparison’s sake, we use our STAs on a weekly basis.” However, he said, that may be due to the fact that most of the items Wilmington Records Center delivers are small and can be delivered by hand.

He would obtain the credential again, despite the time it took to get it and the fee. “In this economy, you have to be ready to do anything. So if the opportunity ever comes up, we’re ready.”

Donaldson agreed that it isn’t used often enough to be an efficient requirement for his business. His drivers are owner-operators, and they are responsible for their own expenses. “You have to have some people with the TWIC, but we don’t encourage our drivers to spend that kind of money if they won’t use it very often; the demand isn’t that high.” And while he said that it does limit his business when it comes to gaining access, his customers understand. “The other option is charging more for deliveries,” he said.

Courier executives in other regions, however, see a benefit to having the credential. Steve Howard, an MCAA member and president of Esquire Express, Inc. and Esquire Logistics Company, is based in Miami, and he does a lot of business at Florida ports, including Port of Miami and Port Everglades.

“As my business has evolved into custom critical trucking, it’s a huge part of what we do,” he said. However, Howard said, the TWIC isn’t the only factor in gaining access to the port. “Yes, it’s necessary, but your company also has to have a good relationship with the shipping lines that hire you.” The shippers, he said, are looking for responsible couriers with top-notch insurance coverage. It’s there that Howard sees the TWIC as a part of the package of service that couriers provide to their customers.

Steven Seltzer, president of Comet Delivery Services in Miami and a member of MCAA, said the TWIC card is essential to his business and couldn’t get through the day without it. He picks up and delivers anything and everything to vessels at Florida’s ports, from engine parts to supplies for cruise ships. “If you’re not on the list, they won’t let you in,” he said.

On the other coast, Jessica Foyer, co-owner of Triton Logistics in San Diego, uses the card regularly, but not necessarily for port access.

“It’s another way for us to access military bases,” Foyer said. “Our port access is limited anyway; we just don’t have a large international port on in the area. We are very heavy in the military tech side. There are so many different bases, and [the TWIC card] is a godsend.”

Military bases in the area typically use the RAPIDGate pass system, Foyer said, and those passes cost $150 per year per base. Compare that price with the TWIC fee of $129.75 for five years, and the TWIC is a much better deal.

At first the bases were unfamiliar with the credential. But once the guards and base commanders became aware of the TWIC, it became clear to military personnel that the credential had a higher level of security, with the backing of Homeland Security, than the RAPIDGate pass.

Foyer thinks the TWIC creates a more secure environment for military bases, because everyone on the delivery staff, even passengers, must have one.

“I was a Navy wife, and I had private military access,” she said. She could bring anyone on base with her, regardless of whether they had any kind of clearance. “Now, as a courier, you can’t use your personal ID to get on the base, although people do. But with a TWIC card, each person in the vehicle has to have that credential. It does heighten that level of security.”

The real purpose behind the TWIC requirement for unescorted port access is not to create a hurdle for couriers, thought it might seem like it. The Transportation Safety Administration calls the credential “a vital security measure that will ensure individuals who pose a threat do not gain unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system.”

While most couriers agree that limiting access to the ports is necessary for security reasons, not everyone is sold on the TWIC role in providing that security. Donaldson, with Hot Shot Delivery in Houston, pointed out that not everyone is coming into the port from the road entrance; much of the port traffic comes from the vessels themselves.

“The fact is that we live in a global economy,” he said. “People on these ships are people from all over the word, and they’re not credentialed.”

And while he is not condoning doing away with security programs, especially for intermodal workers and chemical transport, he does see the TWIC card for couriers as an unnecessary requirement that doesn’t provide drivers with any new skills or knowledge.

“You can accomplish the same thing through an STA or using a driver’s license,” he said. “There’s no training, no test; it’s literally a registration system with a background check. It doesn’t create value.”

About the Author Michelle Tevis is the editor of Courier Magazine. Contact her at michelle@couriermagazine.com or 816.595.4836.


How to Get a TWIC Card
Applicants for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential are required to provide identity verification documents to complete
the enrollment process. Document requirements cover U.S. citizens born within the United States as well as U.S. citizens born abroad.
Applicants are required to present acceptable documentation from this list at the time of enrollment.
Company owners and drivers seeking to get a TWIC card or renew their credential should visit www.twicinformation.com for complete
information on obtaining the credential.

Obtaining a card starts with these steps:

  1. Register for an ID at www.twicinformation.com.
  2. Pre-enroll for your credential and make an appointment at an enrollment center; center locations can be found at the registration site.
  3. Visit the enrollment center to provide your identity documents, biometric information (fingerprints), sit for a photo and pay the TWIC fee.
  4. Upon completion of appropriate background checks for criminal history, terrorist threat and immigration status, an applicant will be informed of the results.
  5. When the TSA determines that an applicant is qualified for a TWIC, the applicant will return to the enrollment center for card issuance and activation.

If you need further information, contact the TWIC Help Desk at 1-866-DHS-TWIC (1-866-347-8942) from8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Eastern Time)
Monday through Friday or online at twic.helpdesk@lmbps.com.