States see hurdles to implementing Real ID

'The question is: Can it be done in three years? Can it be done in 10 years?'

'Cheye Calvo, National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver

Zaid Hamid

Lack of guidelines and funding could slow progress

The Real ID Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush May 11 will require states by 2008 to overhaul and upgrade their driver's licenses and issuance processes, and build a linked network to house information proving the identity of hundreds of millions of driver's license holders.

It won't just be motorists who need the new IDs. Anyone'even children'wishing to board an airplane or enter a national park or federal building might need them.

But a lack of clear-cut regulations, and concerns over funding, are holding states back. States are waiting for the Homeland Security Department to issue guidance before they can revise or overhaul their systems, industry observers said. It could be several months, perhaps longer, before any guidelines are ready.

'I wouldn't expect proposed regulations until, at earliest, the end of the year,' said Cheye Calvo, transportation committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. 'Final regulations, we may not see until the spring or next summer.'

The Real ID Act calls for anyone applying for a license to present a photo identity document, documentation of birth, proof of Social Security number and proof of name and address. States then must verify each document, ranging from birth certificates to utility bills, with the document's issuing agency. States have a May 2008 deadline for meeting the requirements.

No state has a system that can handle these jobs, which include scanning and keeping archival records of all the documents, Calvo said. The more than 297 million birth certificates alone are dispersed across 30,000 vital records offices.

'The question is: Can it be done in three years? Can it be done in 10 years?' Calvo said.

NCSL has suggested that the direct cost of implementing Real ID will be between $500 million and $700 million nationally. But that would only cover the new licenses and systems. The largest cost is likely to be in hiring more staff, training personnel and opening new offices, many of which were closed over the last decade as states realized the efficiencies of renewing licenses over the Internet. The final cost of Real ID is likely to be much higher, Calvo said.

'Certainly, it's going to rise into the billions. I don't believe there is any question about that,' he said.

Larry Dzieza, budget director for Washington state's licensing department, has estimated that Washington will have to hire 500 employees and spend roughly $150 million over the first three years of implementation. The cost of a license to the customer will go up by $33, from $25 to $58.

Washington state will not have to open any new Department of Licensing offices, but it will have to expand 10 of its 64 offices and lease a large office to house its central issuance system, he said.

Virginia has estimated a one-time cost of $167 million, plus $66 million in ongoing annual costs.

Some support

But states may not have to go it alone. The House has proposed offering $100 million to states for the first year of implementation, and the Senate has proposed $40 million.

Even before they get clearly defined rules to guide improvements, states are looking for help, said Scott Carr, corporate executive for marketing and development at Digimarc Corp. of Beaverton, Ore. Digimarc makes driver's licenses for 32 states and the District of Columbia. 'It's all in the early stages, but it's starting up,' he said.

Digimarc already has seen an unusually high number of bids, Carr said. Although he would not discuss specific projects, Carr said the bids are either to assess the scope of future Real ID projects, or to implement the company's document scanning, authentication and archival system.

The Real ID Act calls for new driver's licenses to include physical-security features to help prevent counterfeiting and fraud, which likely will mean biometric technologies. One of Digimarc's partners, Identix Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn., does facial recognition.

Identix can examine a digital photo and assess a person's facial geometry and skin texture and check for duplicates against a database of tens of millions of photos, said Identix spokeswoman Frances Zelazny. Even identical twins have different skin textures, she said.

But other biometrics are available. Northrop Grumman Corp. reportedly is in discussions with Florida about creating an ID with biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and optical scans that would be assigned at birth. Company officials weren't available for comment.

State officials don't want DHS to choose one security solution for all states. They prefer trying different technologies with various business partners, Calvo said.

'The concern is if you have one way, a uniform way, it becomes very static, and it ceases to keep up with the innovations and the wrong-doers,' he said. 'The counterfeiters are innovating, so you need to have different technologies constantly emerging to deal with the problems.'

Ethan Butterfield is a staff writer for GCN's sister publication Washington Technology.

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