The March 31 deadline for states to apply for an extension to the federal Real ID mandate-one that critics say amounts to the creation of a national ID card-has come and gone.
Now every state in the nation is in compliance with the mandate, whether they intended to be or not.
After a skirmish with the state of Maine in the late hours of the looming deadline-Maine, along with a handful of other states, declined to comply with the act, much less ask for an extension-the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced April 2 that all jurisdictions in the United States had complied with the initial Real ID requirements.
The extensions, according to the DHS, ensure that every state will be in technical compliance of the Real ID Act by the May 11 deadline for compliance.
For those states not in compliance by May 11, DHS warned, driver’s licenses and ID cards will no longer be accepted from citizens looking to board airplanes or enter state buildings.
The “extensions” mean that states, some of which have stated they have no intention of implementing Real ID, have until Dec. 31, 2009, to implement at least part of Real ID. In real terms that means states must upgrade the security of their systems to include a check for the lawful status of the ID holder, according to the DHS Web site.
States have until 2014 to develop a new driver’s license system that will include the ability to store electronic identification documentation, two-dimensional machine-readable bar-code technology, and a database chock-full of citizens’ electronic documents and other information that must be linked to databases in all other states in the nation as well as accessible to the federal government.
The issues raised by objecting states range from privacy concerns to budgetary impact to cries of federalism.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat and former rancher, claimed federalist tendencies for Real ID during a National Public Radio show in March. “This is the federal government telling a state that you must do something and you must pay for it,” Schweitzer said. “Well, thanks for playing-Montana is not in.”
When asked if he was worried that Montana’s residents wouldn’t be able to board planes if he didn’t give in to the DHS, Schweitzer responded, “This is another bluff by some bureaucrats in D.C.”
Schweitzer may be on to something. Ten states passed bills opposing Real ID in 2007 and a dozen more states have introduced relevant legislation in 2008. So far in 2008 six states-Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington and Montana-have opted out of Real ID by statute, according to Jeremy Meadows, senior policy director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a group that represents the 50 state legislatures and their staffs. “And many states are still in session,” Meadows said.
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.”
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.
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.