Proposed Budget Forces Governors to Choose Between Safer Borders or Safer Skies

By Janice Kephart on February 4, 2010

In the president's new proposed budget, funding has been zeroed out for the one tool on the books that can help secure domestic aviation by assuring that people are who they say they are. While the president accuses those who work for him of not "connecting the dots" to stop a terrorist attack, he and his Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, seem to continually fail to do so themselves. This is the case even though Secretary Napolitano seems sincere in her desire to strengthen aviation security. Unfortunately, she does not appear to understand that assuring identity security at airports before boarding is a step closer to connecting a "dot" to aviation security.

Every day at airports across the country, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel review IDs presented by travelers headed for U.S. domestic flights. While these personnel vigilantly check boarding pass names against hundreds of varieties of accepted passports, driver licenses, and other forms of IDs, their ability to identify suspect travelers is limited to a visual check of names and photos on the ID. Similar to the predicament that used to face border inspectors at ports of entry prior to the implementation of the 9/11 Commission requirement to require passports of all persons entering the United States alongside supporting technologies, TSA personnel today cannot determine whether most IDs are counterfeit or valid.

To be clear, TSA personnel are usually presented with driver licenses at security checkpoints. REAL ID, the 2005 secure driver license law and regulations that provide minimum standards for the issuance of driver licenses and state-issued IDs, requires those IDs to be presented at critical infrastructures, including airports. REAL ID is intended to help alleviate the pressure on TSA personnel, instilling greater integrity into the visual check of any driver license that it was indeed properly vetted and was issued as a secure ID – not easily tampered with or counterfeited.

Those who receive REAL IDs have undergone checks of Social Security numbers and legal status in the United States, and in some states additional criminal background checks, further assuring against domestic flights being used by criminals and alien smugglers or attacked by terrorists like the 9/11 hijackers. Today's "feel good" check by TSA is just that, providing no real security. REAL ID helps fill the gap. Perhaps excusable to some degree prior to the Christmas attack – being a new administration with a new agenda – the excuses to not implement REAL ID have now run out. It is still law, it still provides good value, and some states are implementing it diligently and finding that it bring rewards in efficiency both in processing and in the budget lines by reducing fraud.

Secretary Napolitano's PASS ID legislation, which she failed to force through Congress last session because it was a poor bill, would do little or nothing to assure aviation security. PASS ID certainly did not fulfill the spirit of the 9/11 Commission recommendations to "secure" driver's license issuance. Instead, PASS ID would have frozen state-issuance of driver licenses "as is," negated the digitization of birth records that helps substantially negate fraud, deleted a requirement to delineate an alien's length of stay, yet provided a slush fund for states with little or no DHS oversight.

Having failed to get PASS ID passed through even the Senate last session – primarily on behalf of the National Governors Association, where Secretary Napolitano chaired the Homeland Security section as governor of Arizona – she has now turned on the states completely. The states, under the 2011 proposed budget, still have to implement REAL ID, but now have been told by their former champion they must decide between funding homeland security funding and REAL ID implementation required by federal law. The 2005 REAL ID law has a separate grant process that was used by Secretary Chertoff to provide monies to states both based on compliance plans as well as the volume of driver's licenses produced, making it fair and equitable. Secretary Napolitano, in contrast, has decided to make her own state of Arizona, and the other southwest states, decide between $50 million for Southwest Border initiatives and REAL ID. So, essentially, she is telling the states that they fund either border security or a key element towards better aviation security. But they are unlikely to have monies for both. "Safer borders or safer skies" seems to be the un-said message of her budget line.

To be exact, this is what President Obama's budget looks like for Secure Driver License Funding, as it is technically referred to by law:

Federal Funds
For grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, and

Page 554
Provided, That of the amount provided by this paragraph, [$60,000,000] $50,000,000 shall be for Operation Stonegarden to address the Nation's Southwest Border security issues:

Page 555

[(10) $50,000,000 shall be for the Driver's License Security Grants Program in accordance with section 204 of the REAL ID Act of 2005 (49 U.S.C. 30301 note).]

Program and Financing (in millions of dollars)

Identification code 70–0560–0–1–999 2009 act. 2010 est. 2011 est.
Obligations by program activity: 890 852 1,000
00.01 State Homeland Security Grants 49 48  
00.14 Driver's License Security (REAL ID) 90 60 50
New budget authority (gross), detail:  Discretionary:      
40.00 Appropriation (REAL ID/Stonegarden) 110 110 50

Page 557 -- (Further indication that there are no dedicated funds for REAL ID in 2011)
“…to States to support the implementation of prevention and protection capabilities per each State's homeland security strategy. Final grant allocations will be determined by the Secretary on the basis of risk and effectiveness and then adjusted to ensure that each State receives a minimum allocation.
At least 25% of all funds shall be directed to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities. In addition, $50,000,000 of the total amount for State Homeland Security Grants is slated for use in Operation Stonegarden to focus on the Nation's Southwest Border security issues.”

Initiatives and investments formerly funded through the Citizen Corps Grant Program, Driver's License Security Grant Program, Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program, and the Metropolitan Medical Response System are now allowable expenses under the State Homeland Security Grant Program.

In addition, the "hub" that would assure a requirement of "one driver, one license" that helps assure deadbeat dads, terrorists, and drug dealers don't rack up multiple legitimate ID documents, is also being held at bay:

Federal Funds

Provided further, That none of the funds made available under this heading may be obligated for development of the "REAL ID hub'' until the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives receive a plan for expenditure for that program that describes the strategic context of the program, the specific goals and milestones set for the program, and the funds allocated for achieving each of these goals and milestones

In her favor, Napolitano will state – and has done so over and over again – that no state is implementing REAL ID anyway. That is untrue, however. Despite REAL ID's bad rap by special interest groups and a few in Congress, look closely and none of them ever provide any specifics as to implementation. That's because it is not in their interest to do so. The real story is that some states are quietly working towards implementation, even though they were promised the law would go away in an Obama administration. Why? Because it is helping law enforcement nab criminals when they apply for state driver's licenses; it is reducing fraud and saving money; and illegal alien populations are not flooding states with illegitimate applications where Social Security numbers, legal alien status, and birth records are being checked automatically.

In fact, the latest numbers for compliance from the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License (the administration will not make these numbers public) indicate that ten states are completely compliant with the first 18 benchmarks (and the majority of them) required by REAL ID now. One good example is Nevada. These first-tier benchmarks were to be met by January 1, 2010, but due to the secretary's unwillingness to support REAL ID this past year and attempt its repeal, she has now been forced to push back the deadline. With another year to comply, another 19 states are slated to be compliant by 2011. That is a total of 29 states that will be in line with the first of two tiers of REAL ID requirements on time. Only three states look like they've opted out of REAL ID, but one of those states, Montana, has instead pursued its own form of REAL ID – and currently has one of the strongest ID issuance systems in the country.

The Obama administration's latest move against the states should have them up in arms. Leaving them to choose between illegal immigration and implementing REAL ID, between safer borders or safer skies, all when Americans are without jobs and facing terrorist threats, seems untenable. What "dots," Mr. President and Secretary Napolitano, are you referring to? Because for many of us, we see "dots" being erased, with less and less of them left to connect.

Topics: Nevada