States cite high cost of upgrading driver’s license systems to meet federal rules

Two state organizations this week sharply criticized proposed federal rules for complying with a law to make driver's licenses more secure, citing high costs to upgrade state computer systems and federal networks that can't handle the expected demand from states trying to verify drivers' identities.

The Real ID Act of 2005 requires states to improve the process they use to verify identities of individuals applying for a driver's license to make it harder to obtain a license through fraud. New federal rules include requiring states to tap federal databases that store personal information such as Social Security numbers to verify documents applicants submit to get a driver's license.

But states will have to spend an estimated $1.42 billion to reengineer their computer systems to support the new verification requirements, according to public comments filed by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators with the Homeland Security Department. The period for public comments on the proposed Real ID rules ended May 8.

Most of the cost to states would go to pay for 2.1 million hours of computer programming hours the association says states would need to upgrade systems to link to federal systems to verify documents. States also would have to pay for business process reengineering, redesigns of databases and the ability to capture photos.

But even after reprogramming, states argue that the new systems won't be able to verify applicants' identities because the federal systems that the states will link to are not fully functional, fully deployed or will not be able to handle the expected demand from states as they send millions of queries to the systems, according to the public comments the National Governors Association filed.

Two systems -- the Social Security Administration's On-Line Verification system, which is operational in 46 states, and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, require upgrades to increase response times that state motor vehicle departments need to issue licenses quickly, according to NGA. Only 10 states have access to the alien verification system, which would require the federal government to pay for expanding the system nationwide, NGA added.

Federal inconsistencies in these systems also pose problems for states, the motor vehicle association claimed. For example, different federal standards for what constitutes a full legal name on passports, Social Security cards and immigration documents will make verifying identities difficult. The motor vehicle association and NGA told DHS that the federal government must tighten standards for issuance of passports, Social Security cards and other documents, and urged development of a standard convention for what constitutes a full legal name.

Without such standards and improvements, the motor vehicle association said the verification process has a "large security loophole" at the federal level, with requirements for obtaining a passport or a Social Security number being "substantially less rigorous than those proposed for a real ID credential."

Other systems the federal government wants states to use must first be reengineered to support compliance with the Real ID law, the associations point out. For example, to validate birth certificates, DHS wants states to use the Electronic Verification of Vital Events system, which is maintained by the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems, a group of state public health statistics offices. But the system "is nowhere ready" for deployment nationwide, the motor vehicle association claims. Only five states currently use the verification system and only in a pilot test, according to the public health statistics association.

DHS also wants states to verify an individual's address before issuing Real ID-compliant driver licenses, but NGA said because there is no standard for how computers store individuals' addresses, "there is no known system or potential system which could perform a verification function."

If an applicant presents a passport as identification, DHS wants states to verify the passport with the State Department. But a computer system that would provide a link into State databases is not operational and the feasibility of its integration into motor vehicle agency systems is questionable, the motor vehicle association claims.

Other computer checks DHS wants states to perform are impossible because the systems do not exist, the state associations claimed. For example, a DHS rule calls for states to verify that a driver's license applicant does not already have a driver's license from another state. But no such "all driver system exists," according to comments filed by the motor vehicle association. A database of all commercial drivers does exist.

The association told DHS that its timeline for states to meet DHS requirements "must be tied to the full completion and availability of these core systems."

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