NEWS

DHS Cuts Cost of Secure Licenses

By Matthew Harwood

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced uniform rules today for securing state driver's licenses and identification cards at a significantly lower cost to states than earlier implementation estimates.

The effort is part of the government's controversial REAL ID plan, reports the Associated Press.

The Homeland Security Department has spent years crafting the final regulations for the REAL ID Act, a law designed to make it harder for terrorists, illegal immigrants and con artists to get government-issued identification. The effort once envisioned to take effect in 2008 has been pushed back in the hopes of winning over skeptical state officials.

To accomodate states, DHS has allowed greater flexibility in issuing secure driver's licenses and ID cards to older Americans. Those born before December 1, 1964, will have until December 1, 2017, to enroll in the REAL ID program.

Younger Americans, born after December 1, 1964, must enroll by December 1, 2014. States should see implementation cost reductions of 73 percent, says DHS, due to the staggered implementation deadines. The original price tag for states implementing REAL ID was estimated at $14.6 billion. DHS says they have cut those costs to $3.9 billion.

DHS has also pledged $360 million to assist states implementing REAL ID. Ninety million dollars will be spent directly on REAL ID implementation, while the rest will be distributed through the agency's annual Homeland Security Grant Program.

William T. Pound, the executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), said that despite cost reductions, the price of implementation should not fall on the states. "State legislators have to balance budgets and make difficult choices among many competing priorities," he said. "These regulations are federal standards and deserve federal funds."

The $90 million appropriated by Congress for REAL ID, which DHS will disburse directly to the states, will only give "states 3 pennies on the dollar to implement a federal mandate," said David Quam, Director of Federal Relations for the National Governors Association (NGA).

The cost of implementing REAL ID has already caused a revolt, according to The Washington Post,  as "states have passed legislation opposing or opting out of the program."

Quam said it was too early to tell whether the new final rules will persuade opposing states to comply.

By this time next year, all states must ensure all applicants for driver's licenses and ID cards are lawful citizens of the U.S. and not illegal aliens.

The secure ID cards will be required for federally-regulated activities, such as boarding a commercial flight, accessing federal buildings, and entering nuclear facilities.

DHS says REAL ID is a must after 9-11 amid the continued threat of terrorism and the explosion in identify theft committed by criminals and illegal aliens. Identity theft has increased by 800 percent between 2001-2006, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Still, DHS faces stiff opposition to REAL ID from civil liberty advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union calls REAL ID a de facto national identification system, and more colorfully, a "real nightmare." AP reports:

The [ACLU] has fiercely objected to the effort, particularly the sharing of personal data among government agencies. The DHS and other officials say the only way to make sure an ID is safe is to check it against secure government data; critics like the ACLU say that creates a system that is more likely to be infiltrated and have its personal data pilfered.

The good news for DHS and proponents of REAL ID, according to Quam, is that DHS showed they took state recommendations seriously and brought implementation costs down. By doing so, "They moved REAL ID implementation from the improbable to the possible," he said.

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