Too Little Time, Too Much Cost for Real ID
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
States cannot possibly meet a May 2008 federal deadline for making driver's licenses more secure - or afford costs that could mount to more than $11 billion over five years, according to a survey of state motor vehicle administrators released Sept. 21.
This is the first comprehensive attempt by states to put a price tag on new federal standards that will require them to verify and reissue an estimated 245 million driver's licenses and identification cards. Motor vehicle administrations from 47 states responded to the survey, which was compiled by analysts from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association and the Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
State officials are asking the federal government for more time and money to comply with the 2005 Real ID act, which was passed to keep driver's licenses out of the hands of terrorists and to make it tougher for illegal immigrants to get state-issued IDs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has yet to issue specific guidelines for the law.
"There's no question that state legislators believe driver's licenses should be as secure as is possible. The $11 billion question is, 'Who's going to pay for it?'" said NCSL Executive Director William T. Pound.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman, Jared Agen, said that the department has been in "continuous dialogue with the groups for over a year to address their concerns," and that the proposed regulations are expected to be published by the end of the year.
In 2004, state governments and the federal Department of Transportation were in the process of setting new driver's license security standards to fulfill some recommendations of a task force studying the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Four of the 19 hijackers in those attacks used state-issued driver's licenses to board planes they later crashed.
But Congress pre-empted that process, attaching the Real ID provisions to an emergency budget bill and passing it with no hearings, little debate and without any input from the states, said New York state Sen. Michael Balboni (R), who was involved in the 2004 rulemaking with federal transportation officials.
Under Real ID, all new and existing license applicants must present and states must verify: a form of photo identification, a document showing date of birth, proof of a Social Security number and a document with the name and address of the applicant.
In addition, all state-issued driver's licenses must include an individual's name, address, date of birth, gender, signature, driver's license number, a digital photograph and several features to prevent counterfeiting.
States have objected to the law for several reasons, but mostly because it may require all license holders to make an in-person visit to get the new identification within five years of the 2008 deadline. Currently, states offer a number of alternatives for renewing licenses — such as through the mail or Internet — which take less time and state personnel to process.
Not only would drivers face long lines at motor vehicle office to get new licenses, but the process would cost states an estimated $8.48 billion, according to the study.
State workers also would become responsible for verifying applicants' documents, but only one of five necessary electronic systems to accomplish that is available nationally, the report states. Making those programs available to all states and training employees to use them will cost states an estimated $1.42 billion.
Designing licenses to prevent counterfeiting could cost states another $1.11 billion. While most states already use security features, a single, nationwide standard could force many of them to overhaul their existing cards.
Security clearances and other measures to screen employees who produce and issue licenses would cost another $44 million, the report states.
Legislatures in Kentucky, New Hampshire and Washington state already have considered bills to reject the Real ID mandates, and several more could follow that path if the rules are not modified, said Matt Sundeen, a transportation specialist with NCSL.
The penalty if states do not conform to the act is that its citizens would not be able to use their driver's licenses for federal identification purposes, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building, he said.