The cost and ease of implementing REAL ID are not shown by a new report from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies.
Nor does it establish why law-abiding American citizens should be required to carry a national ID. But the report is a good signal that the national ID effort continues. A coterie of national ID advocates are working with state motor vehicle bureaucrats to build a national ID. This is why repeal and defunding of REAL ID is so needed.
It's been a while, so let's review: REAL ID is the national ID law Congress passed in May of 2005. It gave states a three-year deadline to produce IDs meeting national standards and to network their databases of driver information together into a national ID system. In regulations it proposed in March 2007, the Department of Homeland Security extended that draconian deadline. States would have five years, starting in May 2008, to move all driver's license and ID card holders into REAL ID-compliant cards.
At the time, DHS estimated the costs for this project at $17.2 billion dollars (net present value, 7% discount). Costs to individuals came it at nearly $6 billion---mostly in wasted time. The bulk of the costs fell on state governments, though: nearly $11 billion dollars.
To drive down the cost estimate, DHS pushed the implementation schedule way back. In its final rule of January 2008, it allowed states a deadline extension to December 31, 2009 just for the asking, and a second extension to May 2011 for meeting eighteen "benchmarks"---many of them things states were already doing or would have done anyway: taking pictures of license applicants, having them sign their applications, documenting their dates of birth, maintaining fraudulent document training programs, and so on.
Then states would have until the end of 2017 to replace all cards with the national ID card---just under ten years. DHS assumed that only 75% of people would actually get the national ID to drive the cost estimate down even further.
The Center for Immigration Studies report, authored by national ID lobbyist Janice Kephart, ratchets back even further on what "implementation" means to argue that REAL ID is a cost-effective success.
States like Maryland and Delaware, once committed, have completed implementation of the 18 benchmarks within a year for only twice the grant monies provided by the federal government. Extrapolated out, that puts total costs for implementing the 18 REAL ID benchmarks in a range from $350 million to $750 million, an order of magnitude less than estimated previously.
Again, these benchmarks are not the substance of REAL ID, which is uniform collection and sharing of driver information, and uniform display of driver information in the "machine-readable zone" of a national ID card. But meeting some of the benchmarks only costs twice as much money as the states don't have to spare!
The report is an important signal, though. The national ID builders haven't gone away, and Congress continues to fund the national ID project. DHS has allocated $176 million to building a national ID so far, and it has gaudily rattled states' cages trying to get them to spend.
During the debate about spending for the current (2011) fiscal year, the House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” defunded the network for driver information sharing known as the "REAL ID hub," and it also rescinded $16,500,000 in previously spent funds. That rescission should be included when the current Congress takes up FY 2011 spending again in March. And Congress should put a stake through the heart of the REAL ID law. The liberty-crushing national ID plan should be repealed, eliminated once and for all.