Tester questions the real cost of REAL ID

Senator says identification system would cost individuals $5.6 billion

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today raised tough questions about the real cost of the Bush Administration's REAL ID program, saying its cost to American taxpayers will add up to $5.6 billion.

Tester and Senator Max Baucus have opposed the national identification system from the start, calling it an expensive "Washington boondoggle" that invades privacy.  Tester said money would be better spent protecting the nation's borders and tracking down foreign residents in America who overstay their visas.

As it stands, REAL ID will cost states $4 billion—mostly to pay for what Tester says are unnecessary changes to drivers' licenses and computer databases.  During a hearing today on Capitol Hill, Tester warned American taxpayers will end up spending an additional $5.6 billion in travel, lost time and other secondary costs.

Tester today also criticized the Department of Homeland Security's series of "meaningless" deadlines for states to declare whether they intend to comply with REAL ID.  Tester noted that DHS most recently granted extensions to states "without any demonstrated security enhancements."

"This legal bobbing and weaving has done nothing to improve our homeland security," Tester said. "But the consequences for the states and for individuals are very meaningful.  They have no idea whether to go forward with the database construction, to redesign the drivers' licenses, and the training of new DMV workers that REAL ID requires."

The Montana Legislature unanimously rejected REAL ID last year.  Montana is one of four states that refused to comply with the program.

"I'm still waiting for a good answer about how REAL ID will make our country safer," said Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.  "But right now it's an expensive, underfunded, poorly planned mess that invades our privacy.  There are much more effective ways of going after terrorists."

Both Tester and Baucus have cosponsored the Identification Security Enhancement Act, a bipartisan bill that repeals the federal REAL ID Act and gives states more flexibility to fight terrorism.