States could get Real ID money

DHS sends plan to Hill to reinvigorate flow of grant funding to establish the program

States can expect more federal funding and other support for complying with the Real ID Act’s national driver’s license standards. But experts disagree about whether the new measures will encourage states to begin implementing the program.

The Real ID Act of 2005 requires state governments to issue standardized driver’s licenses and identification cards. Some experts have estimated that nationwide costs of the program could reach $14 billion. The Homeland Security Department has yet to issue final regulations for the licenses despite the program’s deadline of Dec. 31, 2009.

DHS submitted a plan to the House and Senate Appropriations committees June 28 detailing how it will implement the congressionally mandated program, which means discretionary grants totaling $34 million could soon be on their way to the states to fund the program.

That amount could rise substantially if Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) succeeds with an amendment to increase funding to $300 million. That proposal, however, is in its early stages.

“He does plan to offer an amendment, but the amendment is not drafted yet,” said Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for Alexander.

Some states, such as New Hampshire, have expressed their distaste for the Real ID program by not accepting DHS grant money. Other states, such as Idaho and Maine, have passed bills rejecting Real ID.

Acknowledging the pushback from states, DHS offered to provide additional funding and alternate implementation solutions to speed states’ adoption of the new standards. Those options include different card technologies and enrollment processes.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said many of the ideas came from the states.
“There are a number of states that put forward a lot of innovative ideas,” he said. “That’s a very positive thing [that] we’re going to continue to encourage.”
DHS’ plan includes a pledge to work with state governments and motor vehicle departments to explore various implementation ideas and short cuts.

Some analysts say the additional grant funding could push states to finally start moving on the nationwide program.

“While a number of states aren’t fans of the program, many states are, and they will apply for these DHS grants and spend them to upgrade their state driver’s license systems,” said Jeremy Grant, senior vice president and identity solutions analyst at the Stanford Group.

Grant said states have long been skeptical about whether federal dollars would flow for Real ID. The possibility of additional DHS grant money is a positive sign, he added.

“Once federal funds start to go to those states to support driver’s license upgrades, a number of states will cave in rather than see their share of federal dollars be transferred to peers,” he said.

Other experts reacted to the promise of additional funding by calling on states to reject the grants until DHS releases its final rules for the program.
“States are not going to meet the deadline,” said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute.

He dismissed Alexander’s proposed amendment as a stopgap measure and predicted that it wouldn’t pass in the Senate.

Harper also said the lack of movement on Real ID is the primary reason why so little grant money exists for states.

“No federal money is out there because no states have committed” to the program, he said.
Real ID in five steps
  • The Homeland Security Department published its plan June 28 to implement the Real ID Act. In its plan, DHS will:

  • Fix it?:  Support the rulemaking process. DHS is reviewing comments on its proposed rules for Real ID. The comment period ended in June.
  • Find a workaround:  DHS will review and propose alternative solutions for implementing the law. DHS is working with governors and state motor vehicle departments to evaluate alternative technologies and processes for complying with the law.
  • ID HElp:  Issue guidelines for state certifications. DHS’ Real ID Program Office will issue guidelines to help states with certification. States must develop standards for enrollment, card requirements and security and submit them to DHS for review before using them.
  • Check-up: Facilitate and evaluate state reports and perform state audits. After DHS issues certification guidelines, it will monitor and eventually audit states’ progress in complying with the Real ID Act.
  • Coordinate: Maximize resources and technology initiatives. DHS will coordinate with leaders of other federal, state, nongovernmental and private-sector technology initiatives.
— Wade-Hahn Chan


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