STATEMENT OF THE National Conference of State Legislatures 

REGARDING The REAL ID Act’s Minimum Standards for Driver’s Licenses and Identification Cards 

TO The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Committee on the Judiciary United States House of Representatives 


March 21, 2012

On May 11, 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act as part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief Act (P.L. 109-13), creating national standards for the issuance of state driver’s licenses and identification cards. While state legislators across the country share the goal of ensuring the security and integrity of state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, the road to successful implementation of REAL ID has been impeded by a number of implementation obstacles, which remain unresolved. This includes:

  • the federal government’s failure to fully fund the REAL ID requirements;
  • uncertainty regarding the availability of, connectivity to and governance structure for use of a number of databases that states will need to access in order to electronically verify the validity of identity documents;
  • the uncertainty regarding privacy protections; and
  • the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) failure to recognize the critical role of state legislatures in implementation of the REAL ID.

Failure to Fund

Congress has provided less than $225 million to states for REAL ID implementation—a $3.9 billion mandate, according to the DHS cost estimate. States have collectively closed $480 billion in budget gaps between fiscal years 2009-2012 and also face further significant reductions in federal funds as a result of the Budget Control Act. States do not have extra funds to pay for federal mandates and to make implementation of REAL ID an allowable expense under other homeland security programs is not a solution. States must also not be required to pay to access the databases/systems necessary to verify the validity of certain identification documents. (See Databases/Privacy Protections.)   Congress needs to fully fund the requirements or provide states relief from implementation through the use of waivers, extensions, and changes to the law or final regulations.

Databases/Privacy Protections

The REAL ID Act and its implementing regulations require states to verify the validity of identification documents presented by individuals applying for a REAL ID compliant credential with the issuer of the document.   When fully implemented, this process will require states to have access to at least five national databases. While some of these databases exist, the availability and reliability of a number of these databases has yet to be tested on a national level. In addition, for several of these databases, the method by which states will connect to these systems and the governance structure for information sharing has yet to be resolved. The uncertainty regarding these systems makes it difficult for state legislators to respond to questions they receive from their constituents regarding privacy: “Who will have access to my

information?” “How will it be protected?” “Is this a national database?” These issues need to be resolved, with input from state legislators, before states are required to implement the requirements. 

State Legislatures’ Role

The lack of understanding by DHS, the current and previous administration, of the critical role of the state legislature in the implementation of REAL ID—appropriating funds, oversight, evaluation, information gathering activities— has been a barrier. The National Conference of State Legislatures encourages the department to engage in additional outreach to state legislatures as the full implementation deadline approaches.

NCSL Policy

In response to the implementation obstacles discussed, the following policy was adopted unanimously at NCSL’s 2011 Legislative Summit. 

NCSL urges Congress and the administration to continue to work with NCSL and its members on alternatives to the REAL ID. NCSL supports efforts to extend existing deadlines until obstacles to implementation are addressed.   In addition, NCSL supports the use of waivers by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, for states that have adopted other forms of compatible identification. 

NCSL urges Congress and the administration to work with NCSL and its members to adjust Title II of the REAL ID Act and develop solutions in conjunction with NCSL that recognize national security but do not impede the sovereignty of state licenses or place a federal agency or agent as a permanent and ongoing authority for determining state license uses and requirements.

The Need for Change

NCSL supported congressional efforts in 2009 (PASS ID—Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification Act of 2009) to make changes to the REAL ID and would welcome legislative or regulatory efforts by the 112th Congress or the administration, respectively, to address the acts implementation obstacles. NCSL urges Congress and the department to engage state legislators in this process. 

With less than 10 months until the REAL ID full compliance deadline, state legislators remain committed to working with federal policymakers on this issue. State legislators share your common goal, to ensure the safety and security of our nation.

Attachment: State Legislative Activity in Opposition to the Real ID

State Legislative Activity in Opposition to the Real ID 

About NCSL
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is the bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.

NCSL has three objectives:

  • To ensure state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.
  • To improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures.
  • To promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures.

The Conference operates from offices in Denver, Colorado, and Washington, D.C.

Molly Ramsdell, Director, Washington Office
National Conference of State Legislatures

444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 515
Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: 202-624-5400