Lots of other stories have dominated the headlines lately, so people have paid little attention to news that House and Senate leaders have settled on a plan to fund the government for the first half of fiscal 2013 through a continuing resolution.
Senator Reid's press release states that the agreement "will avoid a government shutdown while funding the government at $1.047 trillion." If only that were true. The president's most recent budget estimates that federal outlays will be something more like $3.8 trillion.
Whatever the case on the total figures, this is a good time to be asking just what will be in that six-month extension of government funding. And I'm particularly interested in whether it will continue to fund our national ID law, the REAL ID Act.
Not being a dialed-in appropriations lobbyist, all I have to go on are the proposals for Department of Homeland Security spending that the House and Senate have put together. Those proposals are H.R. 5855, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013, and S. 3216, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2013. Both bills spend about $450 per U.S. family on the operations of the DHS.
Poring through the bills and committee reports, I find REAL ID funding in a pot of over $1.7 billion administered by FEMA in its "State Homeland Security Grant Program." The House Appropriations Committee says the money should be divided among many different programs "according to threat, vulnerability, and consequence, at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security." Considering what little REAL ID does for security, the Secretary could zero out REAL ID. But this is unlikely to happen.
I find no mention of REAL ID in the Senate bill, though there is a similar pot of money that I assume might fund REAL ID implementation in the states. Precious dollars that local bureaucrats feel utterly obligated to chase after.
With REAL ID funding becoming an also-ran in the world of homeland security grants, its long, slow decline continues. But I have no capacity to calculate the amounts going to REAL ID implementation. That's nicely hidden in the opacity and arcana of federal government grant-making.
Were I asked what to put in the upcoming continuing resolution, I would simplify things dramatically. I would recommend that REAL ID be stripped from the "State Homeland Security Grant Program." Zeroed out. Nada. Nothing. In fact, I would add REAL ID to the cluster of Provided's and Provided further's that make appropriations bills so hard to read:
Provided further, that no funds shall be used to implement section 204 of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (49 U.S.C. 30301 note).
The country rejects having a national ID. The government is under tight budgetary constraints. The policy that kills two birds with one stone is to entirely defund the national ID law, barring any federal expenditures on its implementation. If Congress can't see fit to repeal the law, the DHS can issue another blanket extension early next year when a new faux implementation deadline for the national ID law arrives.