States resist, DHS persists
Of the six states that enacted laws against Real ID compliance, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Montana sent letters to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff explaining that they had already complied with many of the security aspects of Real ID. But the letters did not request that an extension be granted by March 31. Chertoff took the letters as a good-faith effort and granted extensions anyway. "DHS, beginning with Montana, said [the letters] are in the spirit of compliance, [and] therefore we will accept the letters as a request for an extension," Meadows said. In a Wired blog interview, Schweitzer said he sent DHS "a horse, and if they want to call it a zebra, that's up to them."Congress, however, has appropriated only about $90 million to help states implement the technology behind Real ID, and only about $6 million of that has been obligated, according to the NCSL. Despite the DHS' seemingly blithe attitude toward granting extensions to "all 50 states," the fate of Real ID still hangs in the balance. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii has introduced federal legislation, S.717, which would repeal at least part of Real ID and provide states with flexibility and funding to implement security and privacy measures in updated licenses. And the looming presidential election could have significant impact on whether the act lives or dies in its current state. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have spoken out against Real ID, while Sen. John McCain supports it. "It's tough to tell [how Real ID will pan out]," said NCSL's Meadows. "Everybody's bought a little more time for making decisions. I think those state-level decisions will hinge on what kind of financing decisions are made. The indications are a bit grim coming from the federal government" on the question of how much it is likely to help states with funding, he said. Editor's Note: This story was edited to remove an incorrect reference to the use of RFID [Radio Frequency Identification] in the Real ID program.
Despite outcries of federalism and privacy concerns, the real bottom line for states seems to be their wallets. According to a study conducted by the NCSL, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, Real ID will cost states more than $11 billion to implement over five years and have a major impact on services to the public.