Real ID debate isn’t over

Homeland Security extends the deadline for full compliance to 2017

DHS extends deadlines

The Homeland Security Department will require phased-in compliance with the Real ID Act. The new schedule of deadlines pushes full compliance back to December 2017.


Phase 1: By Dec. 31, 2009, states must:

  • Verify license applicants’ lawful status with Homeland Security Department to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining Real IDs.

  • Check Social Security numbers with the Social Security Administration.

  • Ensure that applicants don’t have multiple identities.

  • Conduct background checks on department of motor vehicles contractors and employees.


Phase 2: By May 11, 2011, states must:

  • Verify all identity documents with the issuing source to ensure accuracy of the records.

  • Record in DMV databases the full name in the required documents.


Phase 3: By Dec. 1, 2014:

  • All license holders who are 50 years old or younger must have Real ID-compliant licenses.


Phase 4: By Dec. 1, 2017:

  • All license holders regardless of age must have Real ID-compliant licenses.


— Ben Bain

The battle lines are drawn as states begin to digest new regulations for issuing state identification cards and driver’s licenses based on national standards.

Some states view the regulations as an unfunded mandate, as they have since Congress passed the Real ID Act of 2005, which created the national standards.

When the Homeland Security Department issued a final version of the standards Jan. 11, it reminded opponents in the states that the Real ID program fulfills a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. The advisory group urged the adoption of minimum national driver’s license standards to prevent people from obtaining fraudulent licenses that they could use to board airplanes, as terrorists did in September 2001.

The new regulations stipulate that, beginning in May, people carrying only a driver’s license or identification card from a state not complying with the Real ID Act will not be allowed to enter federal buildings unless DHS has extended the compliance deadline for that state. DHS has given some states an extension until May 2011 to partially comply with the new standards. States must interconnect their driver’s license and ID card databases and verify documents against federal databases. DHS has pushed back full compliance to December 2017.

At least 17 states have passed legislation opposing the Real ID Act, and some state legislatures have passed laws to prevent their states from providing funding for the program. Maine, for example, technically cannot file for a deadline extension with DHS because state lawmakers and the governor enacted legislation that prevents state money from being spent to fund the program, said Don Cookson, spokesman for the state’s Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap.

Since early 2007, when DHS released a draft version of Real ID standards, states have complained about the cost of the new program. DHS said it addressed those concerns in the final regulations, but some lawmakers are not convinced.

“DHS often attempts to implement programs without fully considering their potential impacts,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. “The department should not be asking states to make these considerable budgetary commitments when it is uncertain whether the databases needed for implementation will ever be ready or completely reliable.”

Changing the minds of state officials and federal lawmakers who oppose the Real ID plan will be tough, said Stewart Baker, DHS’ assistant secretary for policy, at an event last week at the Heritage Foundation.
A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation that would repeal the Real ID Act. It is unclear, however, whether all of the bill’s sponsors will continue to support it in light of the final regulations, in which DHS tried to address some of the criticisms of national driver’s license standards.

Several of the bill’s Senate sponsors say the new regulations do not satisfy their concerns.

“This reaffirms that Real ID needs to be repealed,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) “It’s time we look at realistic ways to defend our homeland that don’t include shifting unfunded mandates onto Montana. Real ID is a really bad idea.”

Baker said he expects proponents of national standards to win the battle. “In the long run, I think we are going to prevail.” 

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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