States see IT, other delays costing them on Real ID

Some state governments foresee high costs for implementing the Real ID Act because of delays by the Homeland Security Department in making technology and policy decisions for the national driver’s license standardization program, according to a new report from DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

“States reported that they have not received sufficient or timely guidance for critical compliance requirements, which may result in significant costs to their states,” Skinner wrote in a report issued March 24.

DHS did not provide enough guidance on how the new licenses must be marked, how facilities producing the licenses must be secured, and how to link to the national networks and systems that will be used for verifying applicants’ documents, the report states. States must be linked to five national verification systems in order to meet the 2011 deadline for Real ID compliance, but three of those national systems do not yet exist, the IG said.

Overall, officials in 13 of 19 states surveyed said the costs of implementing Real ID are still prohibitive despite DHS' efforts to reduce those expenses, Skinner said.

Under the Real ID Act of 2005, states must meet new rules for collecting, verifying, storing and publishing personal information related to driver’s licenses, and they must share the personal information of license holders with other states. The law has been controversial due to its implementation costs and possible risks of loss of privacy and identity theft.

In 2006, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators estimated the cost of deploying Real ID at $11 billion. In its final rule in January 2008, DHS extended the deadlines and relaxed certain requirements for the program and claimed a 73 percent reduction in costs to states as a result.

Because of the final rule, several states projected decreased costs for Real ID, the IG said, adding that one state said it would spend $65 million to $80 million, down from $185 million. Another state saw a reduction from $97 million to $47 million.

However, 13 out of the 19 states continue to find the costs prohibitive, and the lack of timely guidance from DHS on specific requirements has created the possibility of increasing costs in some areas, according to the report.

“DHS did not provide timely guidance or information on implementing several potentially costly requirements because it did not apply an effective communication strategy for developing and disseminating guidance to stakeholders. As a result, states could not accurately estimate the full costs of implementing Real ID,” Skinner wrote.

For example, in February 2008, DHS announced it would soon release a technical determination for the official marker to be displayed on the licenses. As of September 2008, that guidance had not been announced.

States are concerned about the costs of upgrading their systems to connect and verify information with five national verification systems overseen by DHS. Three of those national verification systems — for birth certificates, passports and licenses in all 50 states — do not exist, according to Skinner, and no guidance had been issued as of September 2008.

Also, DHS indicated in February 2008 that it would release guidance shortly on physical security measures to be required for state licensing facilities, but states have not yet received those instructions, he said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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