REAL ID Implementation: Less Expensive, Doable, and Helpful in Reducing Fraud

By Janice Kephart

January 2011
Backgrounders and Reports
Download a pdf of this Backgrounder.

Raising the standards of state-issued identification is an important step toward enhancing national security. Because a driver’s license serves so many purposes (access to federal buildings and nuclear power plants, boarding aircraft, etc.), criminals and terrorists actively seek fraudulent state-issued identification. States that implement measures to increase their documents’ security make it more difficult for criminals to obtain these documents, while making it easier for law enforcement to detect falsified documents.

While many states have invested in improvements to their driver’s licenses and licensing processes, the lack of minimum performance standards has made it possible for criminals and terrorists to exploit jurisdictions where standards are lower and fraud is easier to commit. That is why the 9/11 Commission recommended that the federal government issue minimum performance standards that all states could measure themselves against.

-Department of Homeland Security, REAL ID Web page1

The implementation of laws providing for minimum security standards for driver’s license issuance is living up to the claims of its supporters, primarily the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which asserts that driver’s license security is an important step toward national security and reduced fraud at the state level. Equally important, this same 2005 REAL ID law described above, based on recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, is proving to be easier to implement and less expensive than critics have alleged for years. In fact, 11 states have already fulfilled the first stage of REAL ID compliance — meaning they have fulfilled all 18 REAL ID security benchmarks — ahead of the May 2011 deadline. The next stage, in December 2014, requires all those who have reached the age of 50 by that date to be issued a license that complies with the 18 benchmarks. The final stage requires all eligible individuals to be enrolled with REAL ID-compliant licenses by December 2017.

This Backgrounder is an attempt to (1) analyze and bring up to date information on REAL ID implementation and (2) discuss potential regulatory suggestions by the National Governors Association (NGA), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) slated for an upcoming lobbying campaign. Many of these proposed changes incorporate language from the failed 2009 PASS ID Act.2 One of the lobbyists’ suggestions is to use the regulatory process to delete the “official purposes