ID needs real reforms
by Senator Richard T. Moore
November 13, 2006...After May 11, 2008, come prepared when you renew your driver’s license at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. You will not be able to renew it on line. Before going to the Registry, find your original birth certificate and make sure there isn't any variation in your name (William, Will, Bill) between your birth record, Social Security card and any state you have ever held a license in. Make sure you have the legal documents that verify any name changes. Oh, yes, and bring your checkbook…proposed new licenses or ID cards may cost 2 to 3 times more than they do today…unless the federal government puts its money where its mouth is.
The Real ID Act, enacted by Congress last year, establishes standards that state issued driver's licenses and identification cards must meet by May 11, 2008 if the license or ID cards are to be accepted as valid identification by the federal government.
Because the Act was attached to a vital supplemental spending bill for defense and tsunami relief in 2005 (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13), there was no opportunity for a full examination of the consequences of the proposal.
By enacting the Real ID Act, the federal government has gotten into the business of designing secure driver's licenses and identification cards, and telling the states what has to be done to ensure that security. While everyone recognizes the need to make identity documents as secure as is humanly possible, the one-size-fits-all approach required by the Act may actually increase the documents’ vulnerability to counterfeiting. If the wrong people are able to “crack” into one state’s system, they may have access to all states’ systems.
With the deadline for compliance with the Real ID Act a little more than 18 months away, Massachusetts and other states continue to wait for Real ID regulations to be released by the federal Department of Homeland Security. We need to know what is expected so that we can make more accurate estimates of the costs. I can only speculate about the requirements and the potential costs of this unfunded federal mandate. A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators suggests that the new requirements will cost states AT LEAST $11 BILLION over the first five years of the program. To date, Congress has appropriated only $40 MILLION to implement the law. That's not even enough to cover Massachusetts’ projected cost which will at a minimum require a new database, document imaging technology and more employees to handle the increased volume of customers and more complex transactions. While some of the expenditures to upgrade equipment and personnel at the Registry of Motor Vehicles ought to be made regardless of implementation of the Real ID Act, Massachusetts residents will have to pay for much more than needed improvements at the Registry.
But it isn't just your tax dollars that will be tapped to pay for this poorly thought-out project. Let's not forget the consumer costs. Real ID will undo state practices designed to ease a driver's experiences with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, including renewal on the Internet. All 4.6million plus existing license- or card-holders in Massachusetts will have to make an in-person visit to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and provide original identification documents before a Real ID compliant license can be issued. This will be especially problematic for some elderly residents who were not born in a hospital or were not issued a birth certificate when they were born.
Recommendations in the above-mentioned report provide a more Realistic approach to implementation. These include increasing federal funds to enable the states to comply with the Act, extending the re-enrollment schedule from an expected five years to ten years to maximize resources and avoid severe disruptions to customer service, and allowing states to waive the identity verification process for an individual whose identity has already been verified by federal authorities, such as those with military IDs or passports.
Unless you’re prepared to pay more, wait longer, and be more vulnerable to identity theft, urge Senators Kennedy and Kerry and Congressman Richard Neal to change the law. Otherwise, Real ID will be here before we know it. And it’s for Real.