SIA steps up fight for school security funding

Industry faces new hurdle on TWIC as report faults pilot program
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Friday, May 24, 2013

WASHINGTON—The Security Industry Association has expanded its fight for school security funding, taking the issue to the House and asking the Senate to consider a stand-alone bill after grant money was denied during the debate over gun control.

The School Safety Enhancements Act of 2013 would authorize $40 million a year for state, local and tribal governments to improve security at elementary and secondary schools. The legislation generated bipartisan support in wake of the December shootings in Newtown, Conn., but it failed to pass in April after being attached to a larger bill to expand background checks on gun purchases. Senators rejected that measure on a 54-46 vote.

Marcus Dunn, director of government relations for SIA, said shortly after the vote that it was a temporary setback and that school security funding would come up for consideration again this session. Earlier this month, Dunn said the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had decided “to definitely take another crack at it.”

“They don’t know when or under what conditions,” Dunn told Security Systems News. “Our request to the Senate now is to please bring this up as a stand-alone measure. We are getting a letter together with other interested parties, mostly associations that are active in the school safety arena, to Senate Majority Leader [Harry] Reid to see if he can put it back up on the calendar.”

Grants provided through the legislation could be used to install metal detectors and surveillance equipment in schools, train personnel and students, and implement other safety measures.

Dunn said SIA also met recently with the House Judiciary Committee to push for school security funding in that chamber. He said a stand-alone bill likely would pass in the House if it made it through the Senate, but separate legislation could arise as well.

“[The committee] pretty much told us that since the Senate has failed in its efforts on school safety, it is now [the House’s] issue to take the lead on, and they’ll deal with it when they’re ready,” Dunn said. “Right now they’re dealing with Boston [the investigation of the marathon bombing] and that’s going to take some time. If the Judiciary Committee does act on it, it would probably be in September.”

New setback for TWIC

SIA’s efforts to expand deployment of biometric readers for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential [TWIC] program faced a new hurdle this month with the release of a Government Accountability Office report critical of pilot testing at U.S. ports. The GAO said challenges related to pilot planning, data collection and reporting “affected the completeness, accuracy and reliability of the results,” adding that “these issues call into question the program's premise and effectiveness in enhancing security.”

The GAO recommended that Congress halt efforts by the Department of Homeland Security to move ahead with TWIC until “the successful completion of a security assessment of the effectiveness” of using the program. Citing DHS' challenges in implementing TWIC during the past decade, the GAO said the assessment should include a comprehensive comparison of alternative credentialing.

Dunn said the problems that the Coast Guard and DHS have had with TWIC point to how the identification cards are being used, not problems with the cards themselves or with the biometric readers.

“I believe it is one of the most secure government IDs issued, if not the most secure,” he said. “The problem has been they haven’t been using the readers, they’ve been using the cards as a flash pass. If there is someone out there who the government has determined shouldn’t have this card once it’s been issued, it’s very difficult for a guard to know that. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible for him to know that information without a reader.”

Dunn said the solution is more training and more readers to smooth the screening process while expanding security to more ports. As written, the notice of proposed rulemaking for TWIC would affect 532 higher-risk facilities at an annual cost of $26.5 million. That would leave more than 2,000 other sites where the program wouldn’t apply, if and when it does proceed.

“Here we have DHS and the Coast Guard asking our industry to produce a reader, and we do it and then they say we’re only going to use it in 532 locations,” Dunn said. “That just doesn’t seem like a reasonable approach to security. Everybody already has the card. … I’m concerned that we’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and it has nothing to do with what the industry has provided.”