- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

Overhauling America’s driver licensing systems to make licenses secure against identity thieves and illegal aliens will slam state governments with direct costs of more than $11 billion over the next five years, according to a survey by state officials.

The overhaul, mandated by Congress in last year’s Real ID Act, also will “have a major impact on services to the public and impose unrealistic burdens on states to comply” with a May 2008 deadline.

The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures, joined by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, based their projections on data from 47 state departments of motor vehicles. The departments answered hundreds of questions about the costs of compliance with the national standards on document security and applicant-identity verification that the act mandates in time for the deadline.

The report, published yesterday, paints a grim picture of a transformation it says states cannot complete on time except at huge expense and at the risk of overwhelming an infrastructure already running at full capacity.

Delays in publishing rules for implementing the law mean that projected costs could rise even higher, depending on the eventual shape of the regulations, the report warns. It calls for Congress to push back legislative deadlines and provide more federal money for implementation, and for homeland security regulations to be written in a way that provides more flexibility for state governments to comply.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, where the regulations are being drafted, said they were working closely with state officials and listening to their concerns. Spokesman Jarrod Agen said that the regulations would be published by the end of the year and that the department would issue its own cost estimates then.

“We recognize that [state motor vehicle agencies] could be overwhelmed,” Mr. Agen said. “We’re drafting the regulations so that doesn’t happen.”

The report says the biggest costs, nearly $8.5 billion, are those associated with re-issuing all 245 million American driver’s licenses so that they comply with the new standards.

Because the law requires that all documents used to establish identity be verified and that license holders prove either their citizenship or their right to live in the country, the report says, “Efficiencies from alternative renewal processes such as Internet and mail will be lost,” and states will have to pay to hire more workers and stretch business hours to meet the huge demand.

The five-year deadline for re-enrollment that officials are considering, says the report, would increase the workload at state motor vehicle bureaus by more than 130 percent on average and more than double transaction times, resulting in “severe customer service disruptions.”

The report calls for the re-enrollment deadline to be 10 years, which will reduce the burden and spread the costs.

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