September 3, 2008
Real ID Grants
By Jim Babka

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“The legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security was very specific on the question of a national ID card. They said there will be no national ID card.” - Tom Ridge

"I was very protective as governor of my prerogatives in the federal system. One thing I never liked from the federal government were unfunded mandates, or the federal government telling me how to run Pennsylvania." - Tom Ridge

SUBJECT: Real ID, Expensive and Unnecessary

The remarks above, by then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, were made in September, 2004. They seemed to rule out something like Real ID. But Ridge did go on to say that he was working with governors to develop some "basic standards" for drivers' licenses, and that he wanted uniform identification for workers in security-sensitive fields.

But the drift of his comments suggested a collaborative process, not an unfunded mandate.

Ridge retired from public service shortly thereafter and was replaced by Michael Chertoff, co-author of the Patriot Act. The following May, the REAL ID Act was attached to a "must-pass" Iraq bill, and passed without debate.

Real ID would standardize state drivers' licenses to make a de facto National ID card. Chertoff envisions it to be used to "cash a check, hire a baby sitter, board a plane or engage in countless other activities."

Real ID is also an expensive unfunded mandate. Homeland Security optimistically projects that Real ID implementation will cost the states a whopping $9.9 billion that they don't have. Homeland Security is "helping" the states with $280 million in funding and $80 million in grants, which combined amount to less than 4% of the cost.

We have a better idea. Why not just abolish Real ID altogether?

The original implementation deadline, May 11, 2008, has passed. Every state has been given an extension for complete implementation by 2017, though many have no intention of ever doing so. Indeed, twenty states have passed anti-Real ID statutes or resolutions.

It appears that such a lengthy extension is a means for the Bush Administration and all who voted for Real ID to save face. Based on the backlash by the people and the states, they know the program will never be implemented. Real ID is on the way out. Let's kill it now before any more time and money is wasted.

Even if there were no privacy and identity theft concerns with Real ID, and even if the feds would pay for the entire program, what stands out about Real ID is that it is just plain unnecessary. As Tom Ridge said four years ago, "I notice in the private sector, without any encouragement from the federal government, there are a lot of employers that are using biometrics for their employees to gain access to their places of work and places of business." In other words, the private sector doesn't need government mandates to be concerned about security.

But Michael Chertoff doesn't get it. He thinks that without Real ID . . .  

* banks will cash checks for anyone off the street
* "unauthorized personnel" would have access to sensitive and dangerous areas on government or private property
* parents will hire unknown strangers to babysit their kids
* airlines would be unconcerned with security, and
* states wouldn't know to whom they issued driver's licenses

Real ID will solve no problem that state government and private sector can't already address, but it will make our personal information more vulnerable to identity thieves and make it easier for government to track our movements.

That the Real ID saddles the states with a gigantic unfunded mandate is bad enough. But the solution is not to offset a tiny portion of it with federal funds.

Instead, we must tell Congress that Real ID is unnecessary, that the costs far outweigh the benefits, and that it creates more problems than it solves. We must tell Congress to repeal Real ID. You can do so using our easy-to-use Educate the Powerful System.

Thank you for being part of our growing Downsize DC Army.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President

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