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New Real ID regs

After two and a half years of deliberations and more than 20,000 public comments on its original plans, the Homeland Security Department released the specifications for state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses today.

People will need Real ID documents to board federally regulated aircraft or to enter federal buildings. Several states have resisted the program and under the new rules, residents of those states would have to use other forms of identification to fly, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a press conference announcing the requirements.

As of May 11, federal buildings will no longer accept driver’s licenses or ID cards from states that are not complying with the act unless a state has gotten an extension from DHS, which can last through May 2011.

Residents in states with extensions can continue to use their old IDs to board aircraft and enter federal buildings through Dec. 1, 2014, and Dec. 1, 2017, if the holder is older than 50 years old.

DHS’ Real ID plan aims to satisfy requirements laid out in the Real ID Act of 2005, which mandates that the federal government establish national standards to strengthen the integrity of state driver’s licenses.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said the new requirements for the cards, which are estimated to cost an extra $8 per license, represented a 73 percent cost reduction from the original estimated cost of $14.6 billion. States and civil libertarians expressed their concerns about the initial regulations that the department released last March.

Officials at the American Civil Liberties Union called the Real ID cards unworkable and impossible to implement. Officials accused DHS of “kicking the can down the road” to the next administration by extending the projects implementation to as late as 2017.

At a press conference about the Real ID regulations, the ACLU encouraged states not to spend money on the program, which according to the civil liberty advocates faces significant legislative challenges.

Chertoff said that by passing the rules the Bush administration was avoiding “kicking the problem down the road” and the “time-tested Washington way of smothering any proposal with process.” 

Anyone with concerns about the new regulations should submit them online so he could answer them on DHS’ Leadership Journal blog.

Initial reaction from Capitol Hill was mixed.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a letter to Chertoff that despite the savings, the final rule still represented a “monumental expense” to states and individuals, estimating that together they would pay 98 percent of implementation costs.

Thompson also said that a number of the federal databases that the states would be required to use to authenticate documents through the Real ID registration process were “incomplete, unreliable and in dire need of significant enhancements.”

“It is unreasonable to ask the states to move at such a feverish pace if the department has failed to provide the basic tools necessary to get the job done,” he wrote. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who represents a Northern Virginia district heavily populated by federal employees and government contractors, applauded the new regulations.

“Today’s final rule is a good sign those who stuck by Real ID as it suffered many slings and arrows, some deserved, will be vindicated,” he said in a statement. “They constitute the bare necessities for a secure in a new, dangerous age.”

New time frame for Real ID deadlines

Phase 1

By Dec. 31, 2009, states will have to:

  • Verify lawful status with DHS 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 will have to:

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

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

Commence Real IDs.

By Dec. 1, 2014, all license holders who are 50 years old or younger will need Real ID-compliant licenses.

By Dec. 1, 2017, all license holders regardless of age will have to have a Real ID-compliant license.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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