North Dakota awards contract for secure driver's license

North Dakota transportation officials have awarded Massachusetts-based Viisage a five-year contract to develop a new secure driver’s license by next summer.

Under the contract’s terms, the state will pay the company a small fee for every new card issued. Viisage will supply all the equipment and software to print the new credentials, which will have enhanced visible and covert security features that have yet to be determined.

Keith Magnusson, deputy director for driver and vehicle services at the state’s transportation department, said state officials envision paying roughly $2.9 million over the five-year period. There are currently 450,000 driver’s licenses and identity cards issued by the state and about one-quarter of them are renewed annually, he added.

He also said driver’s license examiners will be trained to use the new equipment. The state has 28 permanent offices and 16 portable sites statewide. He added that the state will provide information and materials to the public regarding the upcoming licenses as well.

The state’s current contract with Unisys expires June 30, 2006, with no provisions for renewal. The contract with Viisage, which beat out three other bidders including Unisys, has two one-year extensions.

Magnusson said the timing of the contract is especially good because the Real ID Act set a May 2008 deadline for all states.

The federal law, passed earlier this year, requires all state motor vehicle departments that issue driver’s licenses and personal identification cards to adhere to new minimum standards – which would likely include some form of biometrics – to prevent fraud and tampering. States would have to verify and electronically store three or four feeder identity documents, such as birth certificates, used by applicants to get a license. The law also requires states to develop a national information exchange system that many privacy advocates fear will transform the driver’s license into a national identity card.

Although those regulations have yet to be drawn up by the Homeland Security Department, Magnusson thinks North Dakota will likely be in line with what is eventually produced.

“We don’t think we’ll be way off base,” he said. “As we go through this process, hopefully we’ll have regulations in draft early enough.”

Magnusson said the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association (NGA) and other groups will be working closely with the DHS on the new regulations. He also said DHS will likely look at the standards development work done by a governmental rulemaking committee, which included representatives from the AAMVA, NCSL and NGA and other groups, before it was disbanded with the passage of the Real ID Act.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated five-year implementation costs at $100 million nationwide. Other groups representing states said it would likely be five to seven times more. While implementing the Real ID Act will still be a financial and possibly logistical challenge, Magnusson said North Dakota will likely be better off than more populous states.

Magnusson said training personnel is always a concern for states because they must be technically proficient and have skills to deal with customers. He also said the state will have to replace its storage and communication back-end systems at a later time. Hooking up to a new integrated nationwide system that would allow all states to collect and share information with one another could cost North Dakota $6 million, he said.

“The challenge is time and money, neither of which we have,” Magnusson said. “We can do our part if we get the money.”

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