DHS driver’s license rules may come sooner than required

The final rules for stricter driver's licensing standards are being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and are not due to go public until March. But the director of the so-called REAL ID program at the Department of Homeland Security offered a few hints on the timetable Thursday as he spoke to technology executives in McLean, Va.

Darrell Williams said OMB officially received the rules Tuesday and has 90 days to respond and another 60 days before the rules could be implemented.

Williams said Homeland Security has worked closely with OMB to show the changes made in response to 21,000 comments from states. He said because the department essentially did a lot of the homework, OMB may finish its review in less than 90 days.

Williams said the 21,000 comments from states included substantive complaints about the cost of implementing the program in less than four years.

Marshall Rickert, a former leader of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, said the problem is that most of the adult U.S. population would have to visit state Department of Motor Vehicle offices to get new licenses within three-and-a-half years, and the infrastructure to handle that does not exist.

The normal cycle to replace a driver's license in person varies among states from five to 10 years. Rickert said motor-vehicle administrators have heard that the new deadlines "will be linked to the regular cycles, so the biggest cost-driver is gone."

Rickert said original estimates of state costs to comply with the largely unfunded federal REAL ID mandate were as high as $11.5 billion, with driver's license fees for customers as high as $150. He said the biggest cost would be building offices to accommodate customers.

"We really took the comments seriously and then looked at the latitude DHS had to make changes," Williams said. But he declined to confirm what the final rule would be on that issue.

He did answer some questions that technology executives had over how and when the states would be looking to contractors to help implement REAL ID.

Williams said Homeland Security compliance audits likely would be done by outside contractors, and Rickert added that innovators could help states regain productivity lost by offices having to deal with customers in person instead of online.

In 2006, Congress approved $40 million to help offset state costs for REAL ID, and more funding is up for a vote this year. So far, $7 million has been allocated to a pilot project in Kentucky that electronically verifies vital records.

Williams said he is working with OMB "to detach release of funding to release of the bill." He said if that happens, he expects states would have access to funds before Christmas. He did caution that there are groups lobbying Congress to remove the $50 million for REAL ID now attached to a military operations appropriations bill.

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