States Feel Pressure to Comply With Real ID as Stiff Consequences Loom on Horizon

States have struggled to meet federal ID requirements since stiffer regulations were passed in 2005; now, as deadlines loom, extensions on compliance are getting more difficult to come by.

by / October 18, 2016
Security screening at the Denver airport. Flickr/danjo paluska

A looming federal mandate continues to put states on edge and threatens to further complicate air travel in the United States.

The so-called Real ID Act was passed in 2005 as part of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for more consistent identification standards, but implementation of the stricter rules — which includes incorporating anti-counterfeit technology into the card — has been anything but straightforward.

Distilled down to its simplest form, the law means that people living in states that have not met federal identification standards will not be able to use their existing drivers' licenses to pass through airport security checkpoints or enter certain federal facilities.

Even in cases of domestic travel, citizens would need to present a compliant form of identification, also known as an enhanced driver’s license, a passport or other Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-approved documents — anything less would be turned away after the Jan. 22, 2018 deadline.

States like Alaska, California, Oregon and Virginia, have pushed back on the interim deadlines and have filed and been granted a limited extension, but as Oregon DMV Administrator Thomas McClellan explained, meeting the requirements is not as simple as changing the state’s identification methods.

“States are at different points in achieving compliance, and there aren’t just one or two provisions that states are encountering as barriers," he told Government Technology via email. "The [Department of Homeland Security (DHS)] has indicated there are 42 provisions in Real ID, although there are well over 100 requirements when all the subsections and regulations are considered."

And a state doesn’t really find out its status — whether all requirements are met — until it's submitted a compliance package with documentation of issuance processes, card and physical security features, and system capabilities, McClellan said. 

"We’ve told our legislature that the elements fall into three main categories: security of the physical card; reliability of the information on the card; and security of DMV and its contractors," which he said includes physical facilities and personnel. "The state agencies share some of their findings and revelations from DHS, but it’s mostly kept private between the state and the federal agency."

On the balance, Oregon faces the possibility of roughly 2.8 million license holders being affected by the changes. For California, that number increases almost ninefold to affect roughly 25 million document holders, according to documents supplied by McClellan.     

On Oct. 17, the state was granted a partial-year extension until June 2017 — but that extra time does not solve problems like funding for the changes or the direct affront to the state’s own constitutional documents. 

“The provision that is most problematic for Oregon is the requirement that we collect and retain copies of applicants’ identity and legal presence documents. This can be in paper files, microfiche or digital images ... but the real question is why a state motor vehicle agency would need these records and retain them for seven to 10 years,” McClellan said. “Presumably, this is for law enforcement investigative purposes ... which in some states is a function for which [driver's license/identification] fee revenues cannot be used to finance.”

And despite the fact that the DHS — the TSA's parent agency — is leading the charge for the new ID standards, they aren’t about to pay for it. 

McClellan said the unfunded costs associated with re-enrolling and issuing of state identification poses a real concern for states facing down these rules. He said California officials have voiced this issue as a major concern.

California officials declined to speak about their concerns, but told Government Technology via email that the DMV "has been working diligently to comply with federal Real ID Act requirements. The Department of Homeland Security granted the DMV an extension for Real ID compliance through June 6, 2017.”

While Oregon and California are clearly struggling, the situation is more dire in states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina, where the DHS issued warnings state that it would deny any further extension requests, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

This would mean residents of the state would be unable to pass through airport security as early as January 2018. 

Though officials from the Virginia DMV were unavailable to discuss their state's progress on Real ID, spokesperson Brandy Brubaker told Government Technology that residents of the state will experience no immediate interruptions to their travel plans or access to federal facilities, and that DMV officials would be maintaining communication with DHS moving forward.  

“… We are pleased Virginians will experience no interruption in access to federal facilities or commercial flights until at least June 6, 2017. We are requesting a meeting soon with DHS to further discuss Virginia’s efforts toward meeting the requirements of the Act.”

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.