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Post Sept. 11 security program has more problems

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[October 30, 2008]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- A post-Sept. 11 security program for workers with access to seaports faces a fresh delay because an important system collapsed without a backup in place.

A power surge last week affected the government building in Maryland that houses the technology to activate special identification cards for those workers. The surge knocked out a computer system needed by 120,000 workers facing an Oct. 31 deadline to activate their cards.

HardwareThe Transportation Worker Identification Credential system is still down.

Created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the system is intended to help ensure potential terrorists do not have access to sensitive security areas of U.S. seaports.

The program has faced several problems and delays. Most of the machines that print the cards were malfunctioning earlier this year. In May, officials decided to extend the compliance deadline by six months. The more than $70 million program also has been criticized because of potentially intrusive background checks on the workers and the $132.50 cost of the card, which workers pay.

The Oct. 31 deadline has been pushed back to Dec. 1, according to the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the program.

"Acts of God happen," agency spokesman Christopher White said of the problem caused by the power surge. White said the system should be back online by Nov. 10 for those workers that need to meet the Dec. 1 deadline and it will be available at the end of November for the rest of the workers with a later deadline.

Of the approximately 120,000 workers who need to activate their cards, the breakdown only affects 10,477, according to enrollment and activation numbers the agency provided.

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But Rep. Bennie Thompson, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said this was just one more in the program's comedy of errors. "The unfortunate thing is a system so important to national security is being treated like as if it's an afterthought," said Thompson, D-Miss.

Thompson said the lack of backup was the most troubling part about the situation.

The TSA says the backup system is being built now and should be available in the next few weeks. The maintenance, operations and improvements for the program are funded through fees. The first priority, White said, was to get the system online so that workers could enroll for and activate their tamperproof cards.

[Associated Press; By EILEEN SULLIVAN]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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