DHS Chief Backs Cheaper Secure Driver's License

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WASHINGTON - The country needs more secure driver's licenses to thwart terrorists, and a new Obama administration program supported by governors across the country would do that and save money, Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.

If Congress agrees to modify the law, the new secure license would replace the Bush administration's proposed Real ID card with something called a Pass ID card.

Napolitano testified the Bush administration program is unrealistic because it's too expensive, and the technology necessary to validate the planned Real ID licenses is not available.

Under the current law that the Real ID plan was meant to implement, by Dec. 31 states would have to certify they are complying with the Real ID standard for validating immigration status in order to issue a driver's license. Residents of states that do not certify they are complying with this standard will not be allowed to board airplanes with their driver's licenses after the end of this year.

But Bush's Real ID plan has been stalled well short of nationwide implementation by opposition in the states. Thirteen states have voted not to participate in the Real ID program, and almost as many others have objected. No IDs from any state have yet been certified as complying with the law.

"By Dec. 31, no state will have issued a Real ID compliant identification document," said Napolitano, a former governor whose own state of Arizona voted not to participate. "We cannot have national standards for driver's licenses when the states themselves refuse to participate."

But under Napolitano's proposed Pass ID plan, people would not need the new driver's licenses to board airplanes.

Real ID-compliant driver's licenses also would have several layers of security to prevent forgery, such as verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status.

Pass ID, by contrast, would exempt the home addresses of victims of domestic violence or people in the witness protection program from being included on licenses. It also would not require that birth certificates be confirmed with the agency that issued them.

Opponents of the new program say the Pass ID would relax rules enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The National Governors Association helped write the new proposal. As Arizona governor, Napolitano said the Bush administration did not collaborate enough with governors in developing its plan for implementing the congressionally mandated program. The governors group said the current law would cost states $4 billion while the new plan could cut the costs to between $1.3 billion and $2 billion.

The 2001, terrorist attacks were the main motivation for the original law. The hijacker-pilot who flew a plane into the Pentagon, Hani Hanjour, had four driver's licenses and ID cards from three states.
     
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.

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