Nov 14, 2007 (Houston Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- LMT charts news PowerRating -- Workers at the Port of Houston officially begin enrolling today in a federal identification program aimed at improving security at the nation's ports, although it's anybody's guess how many workers will need the new badges.
The Transportation Security Administration, which is handling the program along with Lockheed Martin Corp., estimates some 35,000 workers with access to secure parts of the port and related facilities will need credentials, agency spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said Tuesday.
The Port of Houston Authority believes the figure will be closer to 350,000.
"I think the TSA and Lockheed Martin realize the numbers are probably higher," said Wade Battles, managing director of the authority. "We will just work our way through it."
Lockheed Martin is the contractor providing the tamper-resistant smart card containing the worker's biometric, or fingerprint in layman's terms, for the nationwide initiative.
The company's Leslie Holoweiko said Tuesday that if the number of badges needed is higher than TSA estimates, Lockheed Martin can handle it. The company already has enlarged capacity nationally, she said.
The TSA knows the numbers could increase, McCauley said.
"Based on conversations with them (port officials), we very well may see a surge," she said. The initial estimates were derived from talking with the U.S. Coast Guard, observing the maritime community and discussions with economists, she said.
Houston-based officials of the Coast Guard, however, say they expect the actual number of workers needing badges will be at least 300,000.
The estimates have come from a committee that includes private industry at the port, said Capt. Marcus Woodring, the Coast Guard's deputy sector commander for Houston-Galveston.
The use of the badges won't be mandatory until the Coast Guard believes a certain participation threshold has been reached.
When officials determine that roughly 70 percent to 90 percent of the necessary workers have credentials, the Coast Guard then will set a 90-day deadline before the cards are required. That will give lagging workers time to get them, Woodring said.
J.C. Nash, who was getting his badge Tuesday as the TSA informally kicked off its Houston program, said he was picking up the $132.50 cost himself.
"It's good for five years," said Nash, a contract courier for West Gulf Maritime Association who has been delivering documents for 38 years.
Harris County County Judge Ed Emmett, who was head of the National Industrial Transportation League when the program was unveiled several years ago, said a major goal all along has been increasing security without slowing commerce.
Authorities began rolling out the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program last month, and Houston is the eighth port to begin enrollment. By the end of the week, the TSA said, three other ports in Texas -- Corpus Christi, Beaumont and Port Arthur -- will be signing up workers.
In addition to port employees, others needing to pass the new security screening include merchant marines, longshoremen and truck drivers.
Irby Banquer, president of Chaparral Stevedoring Company of Texas, got his credentials Tuesday. He said the company has several full-time employees who also will need badges.
Workers at the Port of Houston are able to pre-enroll for TWIC online at www.tsa.gov/twic or the Coast Guard's homeport site, http://homeport.uscg.mil.
TSA officials said that pre-enrolling speeds the process by allowing workers to provide biographical information and schedule a time to complete the application process in person.
The TSA said it will provide mobile enrollment for some large employers.