Homeland Security

DHS warns holdout states on REAL ID deadlines

Jeh Johnson

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson is reminding states that the deadlines for complying with the REAL ID Act are approaching fast.

The Department of Homeland Security is notifying some states that deadlines loom in the next two years for complying with the REAL ID Act.

Although many states have been granted exemptions to the ID rules, DHS has put several states on notice that in the coming months, residents without compliant documents could find it difficult to get into federal buildings, onto federal property and eventually onto commercial aircraft.

Under the act, which was passed in 2005, DHS is charged with establishing minimum security standards and states are tasked with issuing driver's licenses or other identification cards that incorporate anti-counterfeit and security technologies. States are also required to verify applicants' identities and conduct background checks on state employees involved in issuing driver's licenses.

Some states have objected to what they see as an unfunded mandate and federal interference with a state function, and they have passed laws barring their states' participation in the REAL ID Act.

Nevertheless, in an Oct. 8 speech at a meeting of the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said, "Slowly states have been getting on board."

He acknowledged that "there are a few that are not compliant yet" and added that he had recently told the governor of one of them that "January 2018 is it."

Starting Jan. 22, 2018, people with a driver's license issued by a state that is not compliant will have to show an alternative form of acceptable identification to board domestic flights. By October 2020, Americans must have a REAL ID-compliant driver's license to get onto federal installations or commercial flights. The stepped deadlines are designed to give states time to comply and help the public better understand the law, according to DHS.

The department has been reaching out to non-compliant states' departments of transportation in the past few days to notify them of the upcoming deadlines. The agency lists Kentucky, Maine, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina as non-compliant on its REAL ID "Current Status" webpage, which was updated on Oct. 14.

In 2012, Pennsylvania's state legislature passed Act 38 barring the governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation from participating in REAL ID. PennDOT officials said DHS notified the state that its residents "will face new restrictions gaining admittance to federal facilities in January because Pennsylvania's driver's licenses and IDs are not in full compliance with federal REAL ID requirements."

DHS announced in its Oct. 11 letter to PennDOT that it would not grant further extensions "unless there are new developments or information provided on why standards remain unmet and the reasons for continued noncompliance."

PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said in an Oct. 13 statement that effective Jan. 30, 2017, state residents would need "an alternative, secure form of identification to gain admittance to all federal facilities, military bases and nuclear power plants." The only exception would be access to federal facilities to apply for or receive federal benefits, she added.

DHS also told Pennsylvania officials that if the state does not come into compliance by Jan. 22, 2018 (or is not granted an extension), state residents would need to present an alternative form of identification acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration to board a commercial airline flight.

Even if the legislature agreed to lift the compliance ban, PennDOT officials said they would need time to make significant system changes to accommodate a REAL ID-compliant process.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said it is currently operating under a grace period that ends Jan. 29, 2017. According to an update on the DPS website, DHS said on Oct. 11 that it had denied the state's request for more time to comply with the REAL ID Act.

"Starting Jan. 30, 2017, federal agencies are prohibited from accepting driver's licenses and identification cards issued by [non-compliant] states for official purposes," the DPS notice states, quoting DHS. "Oklahomans are strongly encouraged to plan ahead before visiting any federal building or facility."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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