Sen. Warner urges review of security at U.S. military facilities

4/2/2014, 2:36 p.m.
Sen. Mark Warner

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) called for a review of security procedures at U.S. military installations following a recent tragic shooting at Naval Station Norfolk in which a Navy petty officer was killed by a shooter who was apparently granted an access card despite a long and violent criminal record, including a previous conviction for manslaughter.

In a letter to the Secretaries of the Navy and Homeland Security, Sen. Warner asked for a briefing as soon as possible to address his concerns about government vetting and credentialing of civilian workers on military installations, including through the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card program. TWIC was established to provide a secure credentialing system for civilians requiring unescorted access to secure areas of certain facilities, including Naval Station Norfolk. However, multiple Government Accountability Office reports have documented concerns with the TWIC program, including ineffective data collection, weaknesses in the background check system, and problems with the card readers.

“Our military men and women who willingly serve in harm’s way overseas should have a reasonable expectation of safety on a U.S. military facility here at home,” Sen. Warner said. “I look forward to working with you to ensure we provide a safe and secure environment at our military installations.”

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Secretaries Johnson and Mabus:

I write to express my deep concern about the tragic March 24 shooting on Naval Station Norfolk that killed Petty Officer Mark Mayo. Initial reports indicate that a truck driver with a long and violent criminal record was able to pass through multiple security checkpoints and gain access to the secure piers where many of our most valuable warships and their crews are located. The alleged shooter was apparently granted an access card despite a previous conviction for manslaughter.

This is the second shooting at a Navy installation in the last several months. In September 2013, Aaron Alexis shot 16 people at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12. After the Navy Yard shooting, the Department of Defense conducted an internal review and proposed several changes, including a coordinated physical security approach that leverages technology and trained manpower to reduce risk and mitigate potential threats. The intent of this report was to reform base security procedures, yet seven months later, another violent incident on a Navy base led to loss of life perpetrated by individuals who had federal credentials allowing them base access.

At Naval Station Norfolk, the alleged shooter, Jeffrey Tyrone Savage, was carrying a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card, granted by the Transportation Security Administration. I have grave concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the TWIC program. Prompted by legislation passed in 2002, TWIC was established by the Department of Homeland Security to provide a secure credentialing system for merchant mariners, port facility employees, long shore workers, truck drivers, and others requiring unescorted access to secure areas of facilities regulated by the Maritime Transportation Security Act. However, the program has been plagued by problems since its inception. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports from 2009, 2011 and 2013 have all documented concerns with the program, ranging from ineffective data collection to weaknesses in the background check system to problems with the card readers. In fact, the 2011 GAO report (GAO-11-657) notes that weaknesses in the program’s enrollment, background checking and use, “limit the program’s ability to provide reasonable assurance that access to secure areas … is restricted to qualified individuals.”