In 2005, on recommendation from the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the REAL ID Act to shore up the security of state-issued identification cards in an effort to thwart terrorists and others who use fake IDs to facilitate their crimes. Seven years later, REAL ID has yet to be implemented fully, says Governing magazine. Now, as another deadline approaches, states are once again scrambling to meet it and requesting more flexibility. Should they really be concerned? Federal officials have consistently delayed REAL ID implementation to give states more time to comply. The most recent delay came in 2011. Now, the deadline for states to come into “material compliance” with the law is Jan. 15, 2013. For practical purposes, however, it's even sooner: States must provide final documentation to the Department of Homeland Security by Oct. 15. State officials say they're taking this deadline seriously, despite the feds' track record.
“The fact is it's a law on the books, and it's a regulation with deadlines,” says Molly Ramsdell of the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Until something changes, states have to operate under the assumption that that the January deadline is firm.” A game of chicken between the states and feds is likely to play out. The REAL ID Act could prevent residents of noncompliant states from using their driver's licenses as a valid form of ID for federal purposes, like passing through security checkpoints at airports. If states don't come into compliance with the law, that could create havoc. Federal officials don't want to create problems for fliers, and state leaders know that. Even with the deadline looming, 16 states still have language on the books saying they refuse to comply with REAL ID.