The History of Federal Requirements for State Issued Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards

Today: Where We Stand

On December 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued a press release announcing that beginning on Jan. 15, 2013, those states that are not in compliance with the REAL ID standards will receive a temporary deferment of enforcement, of at least six months, during which Federal agencies will continue to accept state-issued drivers licenses and identification cards from those states for boarding commercial aircraft and other official purposes.  Following this minimum period of six months of non-enforcement, DHS will announce, no later than Fall 2013, a schedule for phased-in enforcement. While DHS did not offer a specific date as to when phased-in enforcement would begin, they did note that the announcement of phased-in enforcement will not result in immediate enforcement.
As part of this announcement, DHS sent individual letters to each state’s governor’s office. DHS organized states into three groups based on their standing with regards to REAL ID compliance. The first group, consisting of 13 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) was found to have met the standards of the REAL ID Act of 2005 for driver’s licenses and identification cards. The second group consisted of those states that are not yet compliant with the standards but have contacted DHS regarding the status of their implementation efforts. The third group consists of states from which DHS has not received any information regarding that state’s REAL ID implementation efforts.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the announcement from DHS or your state’s status with DHS regarding REAL ID please contact NCSL staff Molly Ramsdell (202-624-3584) and Ben Husch (202-624-7779) in the Washington D.C. office or Anne Teigen (303-364-7700) in the Denver office.

March 2011
On March 4, 2011, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano extended by 20 months  (to January 15, 2013) the May 10, 2011 deadline for states to be in full compliance with the Real ID.  

December 2009 
DHS extended the Dec. 31 REAL ID material compliance deadline. The May 10, 2011, deadline for full compliance remains in effect, and the Department will continue to work closely with states to meet this deadline.

April 2008
All 56 U.S. jurisdictions had received an initial extension from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The initial extension is valid until Dec. 31, 2009. 

States have the option of filing by for a second extension to May 10, 2011, if the state can demonstrate it is in material compliance with 18 interim benchmarks. That request must be made by Dec. 1, 2009.  If an exension is not received, individuals in those states will not be able to use state-issued driver's licenses or identification cards to board commercial aircrafts or enter certain federal facilities and nuclear power plants.

January 2008
On January 11, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released final regulations to implement the requirements of the Real ID. The release of the final regulations precedes the May 11, 2008 deadline by a mere 120 days. DHS estimates the costs for states to implement the Real ID will not exceed $3.9 billion.

To read a copy of the Final Real ID Regulations, click here.

December 2007
On December 26, 2007, President Bush signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (H.R. 2764, P.L. 110-161), which included $50 million to assist states with the implementation of the Real ID. To read the full text of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, click here.  

On December 13, 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released grant guidance for a Real ID Grant Program, which provides $31 million to states to assist with the implementation of the Real ID. The grant guidance indicates a preference for state applications that demonstrate a willingness to work collaboratively with other states or entities in the development of the personal identification verification systems.

To view a copy of the DHS Real ID Grant Guidance, click here.  
To download a copy of the Real ID Grant Application Package, click here.


March 2007
On March 1, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued the long awaited draft regulations on Real ID Act implementation.  The regulations were subject to a 60-day comment period, which expired on May 8, 2007.  The draft regulations incorporated a number of recommendations made to DHS by NCSL, governors and motor vehicle administrators. However, recommendations to provide a 10-year reenrollment period and exempt certain populations from the Real ID process, which would have reduced costs, were not included.   DHS estimated the cost of implementation at $23.1 billion over 10 years, of which $10 billion to $14 billion are costs to states.  

September 2006:
According to a study conducted by NCSL, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the act will cost states more than $11 billion to implement over five years and will have a major impact on services to the public.  All 245 million driver's license (DL) and identification card (ID) holders will be required to make an in-person visit to their DMV in order to obtain a Real-ID compliant license.  As a result, states will need to hire more employees and expand business hours to meet the deadline.

May 2005:  Real ID Act of 2005
On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13), which included the “Real ID Act of 2005.” Title II of Real ID—“Improved Security for Driver’s License’ and Personal Identification Cards”—repeals the provisions of a December 2004 law (P.L. 108-458) that established a negotiated rule making process to create federal standards for driver’s licenses and instead directly imposes prescriptive federal driver’s license standards.

To read the full text of the Real ID Act, click here.  

December 2004:  Intelligence Reform Legislation

In December 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458).  The legislation was in response to the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission to reform the U.S. Intelligence community and to implement other security measures to prevent future terrorist attacks against the U.S.  The law, among other things, required the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to establish a negotiated rule making process to establish minimum standards for state-issued driver's licenses (DL) and identification cards (ID). The negotiated rule making process was repealed with the enactment of Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13), which included the “Real ID Act of 2005.”

July 2004:  9/11 Commission Report
In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission issued a 585 page report on how to reform the United States Intelligence community and to implement other security measures to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States.  On page 390, under the heading Immigration Law and Enforcement, the Commissioner recommended the following:  “Secure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.  Fraud in identification document is no longer just a problem of theft.  At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”
(Adobe PDF download PDF version, 585 pages: The 9/11 Commission Report)  To read portable document format (.pdf) files, you must install Adobe Acrobat Reader.

July 2002:  National Strategy for Homeland Security
On October 8, 2001, President Bush established the Office of Homeland Security within the White House, and its first responsibility was to produce the first National Strategy for Homeland Security, which was released in July 2002.  Recognizing the role of states in homeland security, the report outlines major state initiatives, including driver’s licenses.  In particular the report states: “While the issuance of driver’s licenses falls squarely with the powers of the states, the federal government can assist the states in crafting solutions to curtail the future abuse of driver’s licenses by terrorist organizations.  Therefore, the federal government, in consultation with state government agencies and non-governmental organizations, should support state-led efforts to develop minimum standards for driver’s licenses, recognizing that many states should and will exceed these standards.” 

September 11, 2001: 
On September 11, 2001, America was attacked. The sheer horror of that day mobilized the nation. The resources and resolve of federal, state and local government, and the public at large, were now in service to secure our homeland.  While prior to September 11th, states were already implementing numerous security measures to counter issues with counterfeit driver's licenses (DLs) and identification cards (IDs) and dated licensing procedures, after September 11th states accelerated these efforts to ensure that their DLs/IDs were secure.