South Carolina defiant on Real ID

South Carolina’s governor said today that the state will not ask for an extension for complying with the federal government’s new standards for state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses, setting up a potential showdown between Washington and Columbia, S.C., and possible headaches for travelers from the Palmetto State.

South Carolina and Maine were the only two states that as of today had not been given extensions by the Homeland Security Department for implementing Real ID regulations. Under the final regulations and timeline for complying with the new rules, states had until today to request an extension. The final rule states that as of May 11, residents of states that have not been granted extensions will have to use other forms of ID to fly and enter federal buildings.

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. 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.

Since early 2007, when DHS released a draft version of the Real ID standards, states have complained about the cost of the new program. DHS said it addressed those concerns in the final regulations and lowered costs significantly. 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. DHS says it took more than 20,000 comments on its original plans and had answered many of the states’ concerns.

But a number of states, including some of those that have been granted extensions, have passed legislation opposing the Real ID Act, and some state legislatures have passed laws to prevent their states from funding the program.

In a five-page letter sent today to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said that because the state Legislature had a law on the books that prevented the state from complying with Real ID, he could not request an extension. He also said that he hoped the federal government would continue to accept South Carolina driver's licenses as sufficient for security purposes as they had decided to with other states that had not asked for an extension, like Montana.

“I am encouraged by the fact that DHS has decided to treat the citizens of these states, including Montana, the same as the citizens of other states that have agreed to comply with Real ID,” he wrote. “I, therefore, respectfully ask DHS to treat South Carolina’s citizens the same as it treats the citizens of all other states, including those that cannot legally comply with Real ID.”

Sanford also added that he had “serious reservations” about Real ID.

He said that Real ID:


  • Had not had sufficient national debate.

  • Was an unfunded federal mandate that does not address the cost of verifying information across databases and would force states to shift money away from grants that need to be used for emergency preparedness.

  • Will raise wait times at DMV offices and make for productivity losses.

  • Upsets the balance of power between state and federal governments.

  • Requires the creation of a national computer network of driver’s license databases that will effectively be a central depository for citizens' personal information — a concern because of all of the recent security breaches.

  • Gives no guarantees that it will make the country safer because it does not apply to foreign passports.


Sanford also listed measures his state has taken to bolster its Department of Motor Vehicles and said that DHS had acknowledged that South Carolina has coincidentally met more than 90 percent of Real ID’s requirements while making the case for residents not to be punished for his state’s noncompliance. He added that he believed that in the next 18 months, Real ID issues would be resolved or the law would be discarded.

In the past 10 days DHS has granted extensions to Montana and New Hampshire, not because the states agreed to comply, but because they had explained security improvements they had accomplished on their state-issued IDs. The decision avoided possible showdowns with the states.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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