States Will Get More Time for Secure ID Plan

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2008

The Bush administration will announce today that states will have more than five additional years to comply with its controversial nationwide Real ID program, the second such delay in a year, people briefed on the plan said yesterday.

By May 2011, the program to tighten national standards for driver's licenses would require motorists born after Dec. 1, 1964, to submit a digital photograph upon application, a birth certificate or similar proof of identity, and a statement on penalty of perjury that information provided on applications was true, they said. Other changes would take effect in 2014.

Drivers older than 50 would have until 2018 to meet the new license requirements, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity before today's announcement by the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS revised its ID plan after states and civil libertarians criticized draft regulations, issued last March and setting a 2013 deadline, as unworkable and threatening to Americans' privacy by creating a de facto national ID for 245 million U.S. drivers. Seventeen states have passed legislation opposing or opting out of the program.

The 2005 law authorizing Real ID set a May 2008 deadline for its implementation. The delay will allow state motor vehicle departments to avoid a surge of applications and instead to phase in more secure licenses as motorists reach their scheduled license renewal dates, sources said.

The change will lower the projected $14.6 billion state cost of the program to no more than $3.9 billion, officials said.

"We have worked very closely with the states in terms of developing a plan that I think will be quite inexpensive, reasonable to implement and produce the results," recommended by the 9/11 Commission and mandated by Congress, namely more secure identification, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. He did not detail the plan.

The announcement comes two months after New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D) withdrew a proposal to provide driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and Bush administration officials and Real ID advocates have tied the national program to the debate over illegal immigration.

As Chertoff, speaking to a department advisory board, put it yesterday, "False identification facilitates illegal immigration, which I'm hearing again and again is a very big concern for the American people."

Elements of Real ID, such as the photograph requirement, could support efforts now being piloted by DHS to help employers verify the identity of prospective hires, said C. Stewart Verdery Jr., a consultant and former DHS assistant secretary for policy.

By cutting costs and with Congress approving a $50 million down payment for states' Real ID costs in 2008, Verdery said, DHS is "on a glide path now to having this thing done."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has called Real ID a "real nightmare," called such claims a political spin, especially if costs were being shifted to the federal government or to individuals.

"The devil is always in the details with DHS, and we'll have to look very closely" at the program, ACLU legislative counsel Timothy D. Sparapani said.

David Quam, director of federal relations for the National Governors Association, cautioned that the final regulations "put us at the beginning of the process, not the end."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company