Multi-Billion Dollar Real ID Program May Be Stymied Due To $3 Million Shortfall

Eleanor Stables, CQ Homeland Security, March 15, 2007

A database key to multi-billion dollar efforts to secure driver’s licenses will not be ready on schedule due to a $3 million funding shortfall, according to the executive director of the organization overseeing the database.

Garland Land of the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), said in an interview that the database used to verify birth certificates will not be able to do so for all 50 states by May 11, 2008—but would have been if granted $3 million earlier.

That deadline is when the Real ID Act (PL 109-13) requires states to comply with minimum security standards for issuing driver’s licenses or identification cards. Otherwise, the IDs from non-abiding states will cease to be accepted for boarding flights, entering federal facilities and nuclear power plants.

The Real ID Act requires those applying for the ID cards to present certain documentation, including birth certificates, that must then be verified.

Earlier this month, DHS proposed extending until Dec. 31, 2009, the law’s May 11, 2008, deadline if requested by a state.

DHS’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) noted that NAPHSIS “has informed DHS that such a system [to verify birth certificates] could be in place and fully operational by May 2008.”

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Land believes the birth certificate database, known as the Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE), will not be ready by May 2008 but could be by the extended deadline of December 2009. But again, it depends on whether the $3 million comes through.

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DHS has estimated implementing the Real ID Act will cost $23.1 billion. The estimate includes $5.4 billion in costs to individuals, accounting for the amount of time taken by the process of getting the new ID.

Currently, $40 million has been appropriated for implementing Real ID in the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security appropriations law (PL 109-90). That law prohibits $34 million from being spent until Appropriations committees “receive and approve an implementation plan for the responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security under the Real ID Act.”

The other $6 million has been allocated for pilot programs in Kentucky and New Hampshire that are in development.

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Asked about Land’s statement that EVVE won’t be ready, Knocke said, “We’re still optimistic” that several states will meet the May 2008 deadline, though it’s “premature” to estimate exactly how many.

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On March 5 DHS Assistant Secretary for policy development Richard Barth was more specific when he said seven to 10 states would meet the May 11, 2008, deadline.

The birth certificate database would verify that the information matches official records through an electronic query from a state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Currently, DMVs in Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota are participating in a pilot by which they verify birth certificates through EVVE. The database currently includes birth certificate information from those three states, plus Missouri, Minnesota and Montana. Several other states are in the process of joining EVVE, Land said.

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In its proposed rule, DHS would not require individuals born before 1935 to present and verify their birth certificates to get a license, as people of that age may not have been given the certificate and states may lack records. The proposed rule leaves it to states to decide how to handle the exemptions.

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Jay Maxwell, the former chief information officer of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which helps states coordinate their DMVs, said in an interview that it’s hard to predict when EVVE will be fully operational but it will likely be three to five years from now.

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State officials have called the Real ID law an unfunded mandate, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who negotiated with DHS to get the recent extension, said last week she would “continue to work very closely with our state leaders and with DHS to calculate what the actual costs of compliance are going to be and to work to try to find some funding to assist states in the cost of compliance.”

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