No Real Bucks for Real ID

Originally published June 23, 2005


The Real ID Act requiring U.S. citizens to carry federally approved identification cards has created a potentially huge, unfunded mandate that is sending shock waves through state governments. State officials are just beginning to comprehend the enormous changes ahead for their motor vehicle departments, which must issue driver's licenses and store personal data in line with new standards developed by the Homeland Security Department.

"It's going to be a major challenge for any state to create a computer system that can grapple with this [legislation]," said Matthew Dunlap, Maine's secretary of state, who oversees the state's motor vehicles bureau. "A lot of states are taking a deep breath and asking, 'What are we up against?"  For contractors, the Real ID Act could bring a host of new opportunities as state officials look to the private sector to help them comply with the law's complex requirements.

"We anticipate the Real ID Act to stimulate a lot of business in the state government arena," said Jim Sideris, managing director with the public services group at BearingPoint Inc., McLean, Va. "Many departments of transportation and public safety are going to take this opportunity to renovate their drivers' services." The Real ID Act, which President Bush signed into law May 11 as part of the $82 billion emergency war-spending bill, is designed to strengthen homeland security by preventing illegal immigrants and would-be terrorists from obtaining driver's licenses or other fraudulent identification cards.

Over the next three years, states must tighten procedures for issuing driver's licenses so they can confirm the identity of applicants and verify the authenticity of the documents that applicants use to prove their identity. The law also requires states to issue personal identification cards to those without a driver's license. The act gives DHS the authority to establish the standards and determine whether driver's licenses and other ID cards issued by states meet such standards. It does not require any new biometric features beyond a digital photo, but it does require that new cards be electronically readable. The law also provides for grants to the states but does not stipulate the amount. 

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