While appealing recently for Uncle Sam to cough up more money for port security, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, used a new gate complex at the Port of Tampa's Pendola Point as his backdrop for the TV cameras.
The gate has spiffy electronic readers to scan truckers' ID cards and speed them along. Just one problem: the port hasn't come up with a scannable card for them to use. So truckers stop while security guards jot their names on clipboards.
Don't blame the Tampa Port Authority. If anything, the agency responsible for port security is ahead of its peers, thanks to a Florida law passed before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that required state ports to tighten up defenses against drug smugglers.
Officials from Florida's ports are trying to develop a standard ID card that would include a "biometric" identifier, such as a fingerprint or retina image, to keep out a person using someone else's card. The state has required criminal background checks and selected the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to issue the cards.
But there are technical issues to iron out. Port officials like the idea of using a thumbprint scanner but worry that the machines won't work on truckers with greasy digits, for example.
Also, the federal government is testing a similar card for transportation workers at all ports, airports and rail facilities. Florida ports don't want companies to pay for state cards only to have them tossed out when the feds come up with a nationwide ID.
Uncle Sam might help speed up the process. Florida officials are lobbying the Transportation Security Administration to test the national card at Florida ports - and help pay the cost, said Mike Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council.
"The TSA is excited that Florida already has a system in place," he said. "The last thing we want is for truckers to pay good money, then have to get another card from the feds."