Baucus, Tester ask Secretary to scrap REAL ID deadline
Senators call May 11 compliance deadline ‘arbitrary and ineffective’
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Calling it "arbitrary and ineffective," Montana's two U.S. Senators today asked the Secretary of Homeland Security to scrap a May 11 deadline for Montana to comply with the government's REAL ID program.
Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester sent a letter to Secretary Michael Chertoff asking him to exempt all 50 states from the deadline. Without the exemption, Montanans could face secondary screenings at airports and could be denied access to federal buildings.
That's because the State of Montana has not formally agreed to comply with the REAL ID program. Beginning May 11, federal security screeners can accept IDs only from citizens of states that have agreed to comply with REAL ID.
"These regulations raise disturbing Constitutional issues regarding the ability of some citizens to travel freely and access their Federal Government," Baucus and Tester wrote.
Both Baucus and Tester adamantly oppose REAL ID, which requires states to spend billions of dollars for what amounts to a federal identification program. The system would create a database of sensitive, personal information which would be vulnerable to ID thieves.
Last year, the Montana Legislature unanimously voted to reject REAL ID.
Today's letter from Baucus and Tester was also signed by Senators Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and John E, Sununu, R-N.H. The letter tells Chertoff that if he refuses to scrap the May 11 deadline, they expect him to respond to several questions, including:
- Why will some people have to undergo secondary screenings and what will those screenings entail?
- Under what circumstances could the lack of an acceptable form of identification prevent someone from boarding a plane?
- What are the documents needed by residents of states like Montana to enter federal buildings?
- What additional training is the Department of Homeland Security providing to federal security screeners to prepare for the May 11 deadline?
"It is our position that this deadline is both arbitrary and ineffective and imposes unnecessary burdens on all parties without enhancing our national security," the Senators wrote. "Furthermore, the Department has not taken the steps necessary to implement this deadline effectively."
Both Baucus and Tester 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.
The letter to Chertoff appears below.
March 12, 2008
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff,
We write concerning the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) implementation of the May 11, 2008, REAL ID compliance deadline. It is our position that this deadline is both arbitrary and ineffective and imposes unnecessary burdens on all parties without enhancing our national security. Furthermore, the Department has not taken the steps necessary to implement this deadline effectively. We therefore respectfully request you exempt all 50 States from the May 11, 2008, deadline.
Although the REAL ID Act bars federal agencies from accepting identification from non-compliant States after May 11, 2008, DHS has acknowledged that no State will be able to comply with the law until the end of 2009, at the earliest. Further, the Department has delayed full implementation of REAL ID until 2017. Both of these facts call into question the logic behind maintaining the May 11 deadline.
Additionally, the overwhelming number of extension and the ease with which they were granted raises doubt as to the underlying purpose of the deadline. Forty-six States, including some which have passed measures saying they should not or will not comply with REAL ID, have been granted extensions. Four States, New Hampshire, Montana, South Carolina, and Maine, have not been granted extensions. As it currently stands, on May 11, 2008, the citizens of these States will no longer be permitted to use their State issued driver's licenses as proof of identity for many federal functions.
These regulations raise disturbing Constitutional issues regarding the ability of some citizens to travel freely and access their Federal Government. Moreover, this sparingly applied regulation imposes onerous burdens on Americans from States that have not received an extension while doing nothing to improve the security of the traveling public and our Nation's critical infrastructure. As such, we believe a complete exemption for all States makes considerably more sense than the patchwork effort currently underway.
However, if you remain determined to maintain the May 11, 2008, deadline, we ask you respond to the enclosed set of questions regarding implementation before March 31, 2008, the current deadline for States to apply for an extension. The Department has a responsibility to disclose the procedures to be used in airport screenings for citizens of the non-compliant States, as well as the potential delays that will be experienced at airports throughout the country because of these regulations. Furthermore, the Department has yet to divulge how the nation's federal buildings and nuclear power plants, including those located in states that have not received an extension, will manage entries under the regulations.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. We look forward to your prompt response to our concerns.
Max Baucus, Jon Tester, John E. Sununu, Daniel Akaka
In order to understand how the Department plans to implement the May 11, 2008, REAL ID deadline, please answer the following questions in detail.
1. DHS has said that citizens from States without an extension could face secondary screening at airports. Could you please detail why a citizen could expect to undergo secondary screening and what that additional screening will entail?
2. Under what circumstances could the lack of an acceptable form of identification, including only having a valid license from a State that has not been granted an extension, prevent an individual from boarding a flight?
3. Citizens from States without the extension will be flying in and out of airports all across the country – not just in the non-waiver States. Please detail DHS' staffing plans on handling the possible increase in secondary screening and potential delays at airports should States not receive the waiver.
4. What are the documents that will be needed by residents of non-waiver States to enter federal buildings? What alternative documents or procedures are in place to allow an individual to enter a federal building if he or she does not have identification other than a valid driver's license from a non-waiver State?
5. What additional training is DHS providing to Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Protective Service employees to prepare for May 11, 2008? Further, what steps is DHS taking to better inform the general public of the impact of the compliance date?
6. Can DHS clarify at which federal agency civilians will be required to display REAL ID compliant identification? Will it be required to gains access to a military base, VA hospital, etc?