IT costs central to Real ID, PASS ID debate

Officials question requirements that would force states to make huge investments in IT upgrades

States have bristled at provisions of the Real ID Act that require them to upgrade their driver's licensing programs with new technology at their own expense, and that frustration is forming the nucleus of a movement to repeal the 2005 law in favor of a less expensive alternative.

States making progress

Despite some reluctance, many states are making progress toward meeting the 18 benchmarks of Real ID compliance, as set by the Homeland Security Department. One analysis shows that 14 states are likely to comply by the December deadline and another 13 are expected to meet the goals by 2010 if they continue to make progress.

Source: Coalition for a Secure Driver's License

On July 15, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that it would cost states an estimated $1.5 billion to update their systems and electronically verify applicants’ information.

Napolitano and the National Governors Association favor an alternative that doesn’t include the information technology requirements of Real ID. The Providing for Additional Security in States' Identification (PASS ID) Act of 2009 was introduced in the Senate June 15. NGA estimates PASS ID would cost states about $2 billion, compared to about $3.9 billion for Real ID.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the PASS ID Act’s sponsor, said states can’t afford the $4 billion it would take to comply with the Real ID Act.

“Some of the data systems do not yet exist because so many states have balked at the high costs and privacy implications of creating such a system,” Akaka said.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas said the PASS ID proposal recognizes that only two of the electronic systems required under Real ID have been deployed nationally. He added that the PASS ID bill would eliminate the need for states to develop costly new data systems.

However, Stewart Baker, who was the Homeland Security Department’s assistant secretary for policy during the George W. Bush administration, said the Real ID program shouldn’t be abandoned. It is relatively inexpensive to check the validity of applicants’ identity documents, such as birth certificates, and some states are already doing so, he added.

“There is no point in having hard-to-forge licenses if they can be obtained simply by showing other documents that are easily forged,” Baker said in prepared remarks during the Senate committee hearing.

If lawmakers want to amend Real ID with the PASS ID bill, the legislation should require states to make people’s birth records electronically available to other states, and states should have to verify the birth records of applicants, he added.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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