A federal plan to screen port workers could drive up the cost of building and repairing Navy ships while doing nothing to improve security, industry officials say.
Under the new system, longshoremen, truckers and other transportation workers who need access to secure port areas will undergo FBI background checks and submit fingerprints that will be embedded on biometric cards.
But the federal law mandating the system--officially known as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential--also extends to some shipyards, including Navy shipbuilder Northrop Grumman (NOC)
Newport News, the region's largest private employer with 19,000 workers.
Ship repair yard officials are confused about the law: some say their companies fall under the law, others say they do not.
Local shipyard workers should be exempt from the new requirements because they don't work on transporting cargo, industry officials say.
They say Northrop Grumman and the region's ship repair yards are already subject to Navy and Department of Defense security
requirements that are more strict than the proposed credential system.
And ultimately, additional costs would have to be picked up by taxpayers and the Navy, industry officials said.
Northrop Grumman Newport News says putting the screening program in place will cost the company $12.8 million--including the installation of machines to read the biometric cards. Costs to administer the program could run close to $7 million a year.
While the new security efforts are geared toward port workers, some shipyards, other marine facilities and vessels fall under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002--the law that outlined the need for the new credential card system, said Angela McArdle, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard in Washington.
The law applies to shipyards capable of transferring more than 250 barrels of fuel oil or other hazardous materials, McArdle said. The Coast Guard believes that having that ability makes the yards more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
But the Coast Guard will consider exemptions for shipyards that show they have security measures equal to the new identification system.
The Coast Guard, the Defense Department and Northrop Grumman will meet later this month to review the yard's existing security plan.
Source:: The Virginian-Pilot