An identification system intended to cover 750,000 port workers, including 20,000 in Baltimore, that was supposed to be put in place in 2003 is now slated to make its debut in the fall at the port of Wilmington in Delaware.
The Transportation Security Administration was supposed to implement the program at 10 ports by July, but an official said this week that the agency will miss another deadline.
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, has been scorned by terrorism experts who consider harbors a weak link in homeland security, by ports that continue to pay for their own gate security, and by lawmakers who approved millions of dollars for the program after the 2001 terrorist attacks only to see it languish.
TWIC has been hampered by its enormous size and by technology, TSA officials say. Electronic readers for the identification cards, which will be embedded with the holder's personal information and fingerprints, still aren't ready, for example.
"We're now saying it will be the fall at the port of Wilmington," said Darrin Kayser, a TSA spokesman. "Shortly after, within a matter of weeks, we'll roll it out at multiple other ports."
The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore was to begin using the cards in a second wave in 2008.
But Kayser said the TSA will likely roll them out at a mix of large and small ports. Richard Scher, spokesman for the port of Baltimore, said officials don't have a new schedule.
Susan Monteverde, vice president of government relations for the American Association of Port Authorities, said TSA shouldn't roll out a system that doesn't improve security at the nation's 361 ports.
"We know it's been delayed," she said. "However, we support TSA because what they want to do is make sure the system works before they go ahead and implement something."
TSA picked the port of Wilmington to go with first because it's midsize, not far from Washington and had already begun working on an ID card system with neighboring ports, said Lisa Himber, vice president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, a port information provider.
She said the wait has been difficult because the ports want security but don't want to invest in a system that may not be compatible with TWIC.
But all of the technology, such as readers, aren't ready. Security guards will be needed to look at the cards until they are installed. And the ports haven't yet been told where all of the readers are supposed to go.
Those who need to have the cards, such as longshoremen, contractors and managers, also have concerns about the cost to them - expected to be an estimated $139 to $159 per card, good for five years.
"There's a lot of frustration out there," Himber said. "There has been time spent, money spent - some $90 million on TSA's pilot TWIC program started in 2002. Depending on which timetable you look at, they are several years behind."