Federal investigators were able to get fraudulent driver's licenses in all three states where they tried, according to a report released Friday that shows continued problems with states' ID programs more than 11 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks highlighted the problem.
States are particularly flummoxed by out-of-state documents, according to investigators from the Government Accountability Office who conducted the audit.
The investigators used forged birth certificates purportedly issued by Ohio and New York, and successfully submitted them in three other states.
"In most of these five attempts across the three states, we were issued permanent or temporary licenses in about 1 hour or less," the audit says. "In only one case did a front-counter clerk appear to question the validity of one of the counterfeit documents, but this clerk did not stop the issuance process."
The GAO did not name the three states it targeted, but it said states across the country are likely vulnerable to the out-of-state document-fraud issue.
A full verification system that would help states perform checks on out-of-state identities could be a decade away, the investigators said in their report.
The auditors also faulted the Homeland Security Department, which it said has failed to tell states how to carry out key parts of Real ID, the 2005 law that is supposed to tighten rules on how states issue identification cards and driver's licenses.
In its official response, the Homeland Security Department rejected auditors' recommendations, saying states are free to collaborate and come up with their own state-to-state systems. The department said it is using federal taxpayer money to help some states that are trying new methods but that it will not push them.
The Homeland Security Department "supports states having the flexibility to adopt innovative solutions and leverage emerging technologies to implement strategies best suited to their individual needs," said Jim H. Crumpacker, Homeland Security's point man for responding to the GAO.
Overall, federal agencies pointed fingers at one another.
The Social Security Administration, which controls the databases for its all-important numbers, said it was up to Homeland Security and the Transportation Department to deal with driver's license laws, while Homeland Security said birth certificate fraud is a problem for the Health and Human Services Department.
The GAO said states need national leadership to encourage coordination and that Homeland Security officials aren't providing it.
"States need new interim solutions and alternatives now," the auditors say.
They pointing to the chorus of state officials who said they are still searching for solid guidance on how to conform with Real ID.
Part of the problem is that the federal government always has been lukewarm on Real ID, which was enacted to carry out the 9/11 Commission's recommendations after the terrorist hijackers used valid IDs to board the four planes that killed 2,977 people.
The law set federal standards for driver's licenses intended to be used for federal purposes, such as boarding planes.
But the Bush administration and the Obama administration repeatedly have extended deadlines for states to comply with some of the requirements.
Governors from both parties have applauded the delays, but congressional Republicans who pushed the legislation say each extension is a setback for security.
The current deadline is Jan. 15 — nearly five years after the initial deadline.
Most states have adopted requirements that those seeking licenses prove they are in the country legally, but they are now grappling with how to handle President Obama's new nondeportation policy for younger illegal immigrants.
Under that policy, those illegal immigrants will be granted tentative legal status and work authorization, but Homeland Security says they are not considered to be here legally — a status that has states confused about how to treat them for purposes of identification.
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