Recapping the Costs of the REAL ID Revival Bill

In late July, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a new version of PASS ID, the REAL ID revival bill. I’ve posted about various dimensions of it: the national ID question, the politics of PASS ID, whether PASS ID protects privacy, a run-down of the Senate hearing on it, and the inexplicable support of the Center for Democracy and Technology for this national ID law.

Three months later, the committee still has not reported the bill, meaning that the public doesn’t get access to the version the committee passed. (A resolution in the House would require committees there to publish amendments to bills within 24 hours.) But the Congressional Budget Office scored the bill this week. That is often a signal that legislation is on the move.

So it’s a good time to look at costs again. The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures both premised their support for PASS ID on the idea that it would reduce costs to states to just $2 billion.

But in July I examined the likely costs of PASS ID and NGA’s cost calculations. To save you a burdensome click, here are some highlights:

But there is reason to doubt [the NGA’s $2 billion] figure. PASS ID is a lot more like REAL ID — the original REAL ID — in the way that most affects costs: the implementation schedule.

Under PASS ID, the DHS would have to come up with regulations in just nine months. States would then have just one year to begin complying. All drivers’ licenses would have to be replaced in the five years after that. That’s a total of six years to review the documents of every driver and ID holder, and issue them new cards.

How did the NGA come up with $2 billion? Maybe they took the extended, watered-down, 75%-over-ten-years estimate and subtracted some for reduced IT costs. (The NGA is free to publish its methodology, of course.)

But the costs of implementing PASS ID to states are more likely to be closer to $11 billion than the $2 billion figure that the NGA puts forward. In just six years, PASS ID would send some 245 million people into DMV offices around the country demanding new cards. States will have to hire and train new employees to handle the workload. They will have to acquire new computer systems, documents scanners, data storage facilities, and so on.

The NGA’s claim of savings from PASS ID is weak. Did the new CBO score change anything?

First, let’s review what a CBO score is. When CBO scores a bill, it reports how a bill will change costs to the federal government. Other CBO reports may include overall costs for federal programs, but when CBO scores a bill, it just reports the difference between current federal spending and spending if a new proposal should pass. CBO sometimes mentions mandates on states and private-sector costs in their bill-scores, but those are rarely if ever thoroughly reported. CBO’s wheelhouse is federal spending, and that’s what it reports.

Now, let’s look at how CBO has done with estimating the costs to states from implementing federal national ID standards.

Its first cut at scoring national ID standards was when it looked at H.R. 10 in the latter stages of the 108th Congress. (This was before REAL ID — H.R. 10 was an early version of the bill that became law as the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.) When CBO scored H.R. 10 in late 2004, it lumped national ID standards along with several other policies and programs in a category called ”Mandates With no Significant Costs.”

Four months later, in early 2005, CBO scored the REAL ID Act, which had been introduced early in the new Congress. It found then that the national ID standards Congress had put into law in December had changed from a mandate with “no significant costs” to a mandate costing more than $100 million.

CBO thought REAL ID would only cost $20 million more than that, an amount below the reporting threshold of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, so CBO did not do a thorough analysis.

Then the folks actually faced with implementing it took a look at REAL ID. More realistic estimates of costs to states in the $10+ billion range came forward, including an estimate from the National Governors Association, as I discussed in my previous post on costs.

With that background we’re ready to look at the CBO score for PASS ID. CBO makes no precise estimate of costs to states. Its specialty, again, is federal spending. But it makes a few observations about such costs:

  • “The bill would require states to issue public notices about their security and privacy policies that include information about how personally identifiable information is used, stored, accessed, and shared.”

This, all should agree, is a complex problem but a small cost.

  • “The bill also would require states to have a process that would allow individuals to access, amend, and correct their information. Information from groups representing state governments [NGA and NCSL, most likely] indicates that most states currently have such policies and procedures, though some may need to be revised.”

No. They. Do. Not.

As I said in my post on the privacy consequences of PASS ID:

This is a new and different security/identity fraud challenge not found in REAL ID, and the states have no idea what they’re getting themselves into if they try to implement such a thing. A May 2000 report from a panel of experts convened by the Federal Trade Commission was bowled over by the complexity of trying to secure information while giving people access to it. Nowhere is that tension more acute than in giving the public access to basic identity information.

No state has opened its driver databases for review and correction by the public. That would be an all-you-can-eat buffet for identity fraudsters. The CBO has been bamboozled about state policies.

But the language of PASS ID finesses this, doesn’t it? It says that opening up identity data and giving the public correction rights would be done “as determined appropriate by the State.” So states wouldn’t really have to do anything, right? Right!

Except that the Department of Homeland Security gets to interpret what that language means, and a court will defer to any reasonable DHS interpretation. That’s the Supreme Court’s Chevron doctrine. (It’s an unfortunate abdication of power to administrative agencies, but it’s the law today.)

If the NGA and NCSL have told their clients that they will have the last word on how PASS IS is implemented, they are wrong. It’s DHS’ call — not states’. There may be huge costs to states — hidden at first, but growing and growing — if they stick their heads into the jaws of the federal lion.

Returning to the CBO’s assessment of state costs:

  • “The bill would repeal the requirements of the REAL ID Act and replace them with more flexible requirements for issuing compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards.”

This is true in some respects, and not in others. As I noted before, PASS ID is on a tighter implementation schedule which is the main driver of costs.

  • “The bill also would authorize appropriations that could be used to pay for those requirements, and it would prohibit the federal government from charging fees to states to access the SAVE and SSOLV data systems.”

Because it’s federal, this is something that CBO actually knows about, and its assessment is that PASS ID would dole out a total of $123 million to states over the next five years. Washington, D.C.’s highest spending year would be fiscal 2013, in which it would spend $39 million, less than $1 million per state.

And those savings when the federal government doesn’t charge states for using its databases? Just $2 million each year in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Nothing in the CBO estimate changes the conclusion that implementing a national ID would cost states over $10 billion dollars, as they hired new staff, acquired new equipment and systems, and marched 250 million Americans through their DMVs. The federal government is promising to dole out $123 million and offer states a whopping $4 million in savings on data access.

The National Governors Association’s argument that PASS ID reduces costs to states is ludicrous. And the paltry funds Congress might share with states is a drop in the bucket. The homeland security appropriations bill for fiscal 2010 cuts funding for REAL ID by $40 million from its 2009 funding level. PASS ID would fare no better.

State governors and legislatures that have fallen for the PASS ID cost estimates of the National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures should fire these financial advisors. NGA and NCSL are trying to grow federal power at the expense of state coffers.