The deadline for states to meet federal requirements for issuing driver's licenses under the Real ID Act is only seven months away, and while some states have taken steps to meet the requirements, others flatly refuse to comply. Moreover, the new head of the federal agency in charge of enforcing the act, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, has said publicly that she is working to repeal the act.

Real ID was established at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which was formed in November 2002 to review the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and recommend ways to improve national security. Part of the commission's 2004 report called for creating federal standards for issuing secure identifications, such as driver's licenses.

DHS estimates the cost of Real ID implementation at $23.1 billion over a 10-year period, with $10 billion to $14 billion coming from states. “A lot of that expense will pass on to the consumer, making driver's licenses cost significantly more,” says Melissa Savage, the Washington-based National Conference of State Legislatures' environment, energy and transportation program director.

States are finding ways around a DHS threat that driver's licenses from non-complying states could not be used to board planes or enter federal buildings, Savage says. Maine officials have elected not to comply with Real ID and instead are encouraging all residents to get passports.

In April, former Arizona Governor Napolitano attended the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Conference and addressed an audience member's concerns about loss of privacy if Real ID gives the government access to citizens' identification documents. “[DHS] over the last few weeks [has been] meeting with governors of both parties to look at a way to repeal Real ID and substitute something else that pivots off the driver's license but accomplishes some of the same goals,” Napolitano said.

Still, some states are complying, but with some compromise. California state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo has introduced legislation that would create a two-tiered system for obtaining licenses. First-tier driver's licenses would be Real ID compliant, while second-tier licenses would be acceptable for driving but not for access to planes and federal buildings. The proposed legislation would expand insurance coverage and increase public safety by ensuring that all drivers are insured and properly educated on the rules of the road, says Christy Wolfe, Cedillo's director of communications. “California is taking the right step with national security,” she says.

Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.

Related Stories

Real ID requirements:

  • Information and security features on every driver's license.

  • Verifiable proof of identity and lawful status from applicants.