Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Well, here goes the rant…

As many who know me are aware, it was only in the last year or so that I’ve been finally worn down by the banks.  I used to pitch a royal fit about having to stick a thumbprint on a check that I wanted to cash.  Something about the fact that a private corporation can arbitrarily and unilaterally decide to require of you something that law enforcement cannot without reason and justification.  It’s hard to stomach but if I want to cash a check, sometimes I have to accept the fact that I’m merely a minor hiccup in the financial world protecting itself.

It is with this as background that today I entered the system to obtain a TWIC identification.  For those who don’t know, a TWIC is a Transportation Worker Identity Card.  It’s required for all people involved in transportation related industries and it ostensibly guarantees that I am who I say I am and have no desire to plant a bomb or any such thing.

Chris and I need them for our Merchant Mariner’s Credentials (Captain’s License) as it is required prior to issuance of the MMC.  She has just recently past the exam for her 100 ton Inland Master’s License (thanks to Capt. Richard Rodriguez of Zenith Maritime at www.bitterendblog.com).  I will be taking my exams this fall once I have accrued enough seatime to qualify.

So today we went to the local TWIC office to do our initial interview.    The process requires government issued ID (passports in our case), two separate interviews, full fingerprinting (all ten digits), and a background check.  So now, without ever having committed a crime, the Dept. of Homeland (I still hate that word) Security has my fingerprints so that they know I’m “okay”.  If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.  We are fortunate in that we have a TWIC office close by, in Anacortes, about 45 south of us.  We actually have five TWIC offices in Washington State.  Generally, if you live in a coastal state or along the Great Lakes, you’ve got offices.  Live in Montana?  Too bad, you’ve got a long trip ahead to get yours. Twice, one for each interview (each must be made in person).

Last year Chris and I had registered online through the Homeland Security website for an appointment when we were almost required to have a TWIC to access the Zodiac’s dock.  We ended up not needing it then, cancelled the appointment and forgot all about it.  UNTIL we tried to schedule a new appointment through the website but could not remember user names, passwords, secret question answers, not nothin’.  I recommend she call the office and just schedule an appointment over the phone.  A quick Federal 1-800 number later, done and done.

We looked up the address and directions online, and made arrangements to meet the aforementioned Capt. Rodriguez for lunch as we were going to be in his stomping grounds.  As we finished lunch, he mentioned to us that we’ll have to look carefully for the office as it has a small sign and is in a log cabin.  WTF?  In a log cabin?  Now I suddenly remembered that the office location on the map was NOT at the waterfront offices where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, if you love those government acronyms).  Anacortes has an ICE office so one could clear Customs in or outbound in a vessel heading to Canada.  Somehow I had just assumed that these two branches of the Dept. of Homeland Security would share office space or something.

Off we drove to our appointment.  We followed our directions and lo-and-behold, there’s the small sign and a log cabin.  Now to be fair, the cabin was actually the main office for a company that built pre-assembled log homes and had added additional retail office space to theirs, all in the material they’re familiar with.  The sign however, was a little unusual for a federal office location; see exhibit “A”:

We enter the door and find a tiny little space, with a folding table for reception and a twenty-something woman taking names.  First thing I’m concerned about is the fact that there are ten people waiting in folding chairs.  “Oh no”, we were informed, “you didn’t need an appointment today, we take walk-ins on Mondays.”  The next biggie is that we have to pony up the $132.50 fee for each of us.  We’d brought cash, but evidently, the DHS does not accept the currency printed by the US Mint and clearly labeled as “legal tender for all debts public and private”.  “So sorry,” she said, “but you can run into town and get a money order or use your credit card if you’d like.”  Having not brought our card with us we had to drive back to town, forfeiting our scheduled appointments and now becoming walk-ins at the end of the line.  “Oh,” she said before we left, “don’t forget to make the money order out to Lockheed Martin.”  Again, WTF?


Turns out Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to develop and manage the TWIC process for merchant marine credentials, with government plans to expand the program to cover all required transportation security credentialing.  Those ten people in the office we all twenty-something boys trying to get jobs at the refinery (served by merchant marine tankers).  The contract was estimated to run to about $70 million dollars and then grow as TWIC credentials were implemented in other transportation industries.

Online research has revealed little about the actual costs.  The initial contract was to run 15 months and cover 750,000 to 850,000 cards (dependant upon sources) starting in 2008. If Lockheed received all of the $132.50 per applicant at 850K cards, they should have actually received in excess of $112 million.  As of today, they’ve enrolled 1,685,253 applicants totaling better than $223 million in fees.  I can’t find a breakdown on what percentage of the fee goes to the government and what goes to LM.  I was able to find several quotes that the contract as submitted was approaching thirty percent below what the feds expected, but they also expected the final as delivered costs to run higher.

For just a little more background, Lockheed Martin earned about $45 billion last year.  Approximately $36 billion of that was from government contracts.  They are the single largest defense contractor in the world and showed $2.9 billion in profits.  They employ about 133,000 people, the CEO earned about $19 million dollars last year and I’m still trying to parse out the $24 million in options that he’s exercised.  Oh, and don’t forget the 200K they paid said CEO to offset the taxes he had to pay, because it would be a hardship for him to pay that out of his income.  

And yes, I did just recently re-read Eisenhower’s Farewell Address. 


I stood in the log cabin office with Chris’ phone googling most of this information while we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Turns out the young woman was not just the receptionist, she was also the interviewer, data entry manager and sole employee in the place.  We watched as she multitasked for quite some time, debating how much more than minimum wage she was earning. 

The other thing that was painful to watch was the process of bringing people into the office for the interview. Each interview lasted ten minutes or so and took place in Office 1.  I know this because there was a piece of paper with “Office 1” printed on it taped to the tradeshow pipe and drape curtain that framed the office.  With each interview, we listened as she asked for height, weight hair color, eye color, date of birth, name and social security number.  With a notepad, I could have had it all.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I in no way blame or lay fault at this woman’s feet. She was just doing her job. For a company.  A company that earned $2.9 billion dollars, after they paid $42 billion in expenses.  What all this really got me thinking about was why do people believe that a company whose sole motive is profit will be more cost effective than the government.  Now don’t launch into the whole bureaucratic waste thing.  I’ve working for the Seattle City government and I understand where waste can creep in.  I’ve also working for private sector companies and know where excess and padding can creep in.

Let us not forget that the $70 million base contract included all the costs for this program, or did it?  When you call the 800 number to schedule an appointment, it’s run by the federal government.  All the online information is run by the federal government under the Transportation Security Administration.   The forms to fill out are issued by the TSA, I can only assume printed by the federal government.  So really, LM developed a computer database and a fingerprint scanner, then a system to encode that on a laminated ID card.

The office space was maybe 400 square feet.  Even at two bucks a foot that’s less than $10,000 a year for the lease.  Make it $15,000 to cover utilities and expenses.  If the young woman was being paid $10 an hour, LM paid her $20,000 plus benefits.  Round their L&I, benefits and everything else up and let’s call it $30,000 for the employee (and I assume they didn’t offset her federal taxes).  That’s 45K full up for expenses. Throw in on computer, a fingerprint scanner and several clipboards and you’ve got one damn cheap and efficient operation say $55,000 per year.

Multiply that by the 160 or so locations and we’re looking at about $10 million per year in operational costs.  Times three years is thirty million and let’s double that because they had to reinvent computers and invent the fingerprint scanner.  Now we’re at $60 million dollars in expenses.  Not quite close to the potential $223 million they’ve taken in.  Even if half the income goes to the federal government to cover FBI, website and phone costs, they’ve still cleared $60 million in profit. IN PROFIT.  And I suspect that LM subcontracted the enrollment center portion, so the woman was being paid minimum wage, probably little to no benefits and I doubt they pay two bucks a foot on the space.

Meanwhile, there’s a beautiful ICE office just down the road.  Run by the DHS.  The same DHS that runs the TWIC program.  So why can’t we combine the two services, run by the same department in the same town.  At the very least we’d save money on leases.  We might save $60 million being paid as profit to Lockheed Martin.

Chris got on the phone, rescheduled our appointments for next Tuesday, first thing in the morning when there should be no wait.  We walked out frustrated, having wasted an entire day.  So next week we’ll go in hand in our check and the man will get our fingerprints.  If all goes well some six weeks later, we’ll go back, be re-interviewed and get our cards.

Then we get to go apply for our Nexus cards.

Nexus cards are used by Border Protection to speed Canadian border crossings for frequent travelers.  With them, we can clear customs via VHF radio when we go north in Kwaietek.  To get a Nexus, we have to present a government issued ID (passports in our case), two interviews, full fingerprints and a background check.  All to the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Yes, that Dept. of Homeland Security. 

The one we just finished with.

Don’t get me started.

-posted by Jeff C.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Off to dry dock for the Zodiac

In Guemes Channel now, ready to at long last, dry-dock the Zodiac for her yearly inspection and paint job.
It's been a rough road and many false starts just getting to this point.

Next few days its hard hats and paint duds for her crew...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Homeport Renaming Ceremony for Schooner Zodiac

Bellingham Bay Rendezvous and
Schooner Zodiac Home Port Renaming Celebration
Sat., Apr. 16, 2011

Historic wooden schooners from across Puget Sound will converge on Fairhaven, Saturday, Apr. 16, for the inaugural Bellingham Bay Rendezvous, a gathering of charter sailing and cruise vessels, to celebrate the Schooner Zodiac’s formal transfer of home port designation to Bellingham.
Public festivities at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal will include charter vessel tours, day sails, antique marine engine demonstrations, kids activities, sea chanties, and food booths, as well as tours of the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Lion.
The Schooner Zodiac will also unveil her new main mast. Students and chaperones from Edmonds who were on board the Zodiac when the mast splintered on Sept. 25, 2010, will return to host public tours on the vessel from 9 a.m. to noon.
“They are a great group of kids and it is our pleasure to have them back as honorary crew members for the day,” said Zodiac First Mate, Chris Wallace. “This will be a great opportunity to showcase the new mast everyone has been hearing so much about, and thank Bellingham for its support.”
The Coast Guard will offer public tours of the Cutter Sea Lion from 9 a.m. to noon. Maps to the dock will be available at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. The Sea Lion is an 87-foot Patrol boat, one of seven in the Puget Sound Area. Its primary missions are Search and Rescue (SAR), and Ports and Waterways Coastal Security (PWCS). ( http://www.uscg.mil/d13/units/factsheets/usCGC_Sea_Lion.pdf) 
"SEA LION is anticipating the opportunity to showcase the Cutter, to the community that it supports," said the Executive Petty Officer, Boatswain's Mate First Class Joel Laufenberg.
Public tours of the Motor Vessel David B at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal will include demonstrations of its antique 1929 Washington Estep 3-cylinder engine. The David B also features an antique-style wood burning cookstove in its galley, which is actively utilized during its summer cruises. (www.northwestnavigation.com) 
“Small ship cruising is a significant activity on Bellingham Bay and throughout the Puget Sound,” explains event co-creator John Servais. “Many of us often see the sails from land, but might not know how accessible local water adventures are. This event is a free opportunity to actually get on board our local charter boats and learn more about them. We are thrilled the Zodiac has permanently relocated here.”
An official unveiling ceremony for the Zodiac’s home port designation change will take place from noon to 1 p.m. A Parade of Sails will follow in Bellingham Bay from 1 to 4 p.m.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 160-foot schooner Zodiac is a classic wooden yacht with the largest working mainsail on the west coast. She was built in 1924 for the heirs of Johnson & Johnson and sold during the depression to the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association where she worked for 40 years. In the 1970s, the Vessel Zodiac Corporation was formed, to operate, maintain and restore the Zodiac to her former glory. Although the keel is original, everything above the waterline has been rebuilt. Her impressive main mast reaches 12 stories high.
On Sept. 25, 2010 the Zodiac’s main mast unexpectedly snapped while sailing off Lummi Island. On board were 17 students from the Edmonds Home School Resource Center on a team-building sail, along with their chaperones and Zodiac crew. No one was seriously injured. Over the winter a second-growth Douglas Fir in Oregon was located to serve as a new mast. It was transported to the Spar Shop at Grays Harbor to be turned on the largest lathe in the U.S. The new mast measures 117 feet high and has an 18 inch diameter. The Zodiac will undergo sea trials with the Coast Guard in March, before embarking on her summer cruising schedule.  (www.schoonerzodiac.com)
Coordination of the Bellingham Bay Rendezvous is a partnership between numerous organizations, including the Old Fairhaven Association, Port of Bellingham, Whidbey Island Bank and SeaView North Shipyard. fairhaven.com/bbr