Passports and Real ID: IN THE SAME FIX!

A serious problem for Real ID is that, over a year after the law was passed, the format of drivers licenses is signifigantly undefined. The DHS is empowered to add requirements, and must clarify many vague terms in the law. Until the DHS speaks, no state can really develop the computer systems necessary to support Real ID licenses.

Well - incredibly - many passports are in the same fix! A 2004 law required people entering the US with passports from the Americas, the Caribbean and Bermuda to conform to standards to be specified by the DHS. The passports MUST be used in 2007 for sea and air travel, and in 2008 for all travel. But after two years, the DHS has not defined this passport format! Two senators have introduced a bill to postpone this passport law, which is described as a "train wreck," but the DHS insists it is on schedule to meet the law (ignoring, I guess, the time everyone else will need to implement what they specify). I learned about all this from a June 30, 2006 story at GovExec.com by Chris Strohm, a writer for Congress Daily.

Our heroes for trying to delay this law are Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Here are some quotes:
Senate appropriators moved Thursday to push back a deadline for travelers entering and leaving the United States to have a secure, government-approved identification document, with lawmakers saying the delay is needed to avoid a bureaucratic jam at the nation's borders.
State and DHS have been developing requirements for a new Passport Card to meet the requirements. The card is expected to contain biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, but it has not yet been determined whether it also will include other, more controversial technology, such as radio frequency identification chips.

Leahy said the looming deadline is "a train wreck on the horizon" because State and DHS lack sufficient coordination and have not involved the Canadian government enough. "It will be far easier and less harmful to fix these problems before this system goes into effect than to have to mop up the mess afterward," he said.

The Leahy-Stevens amendment also would require Homeland Security and State to certify to Congress that several policies and technology standards are met before the program moves forward.
DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said a notice of proposed rulemaking will be "coming soon" to meet the law's requirements. He could not offer a more specific time frame. But he said the department does not see a need for an extension.

"The whole Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is to close a loophole which exists in travel throughout the Western Hemisphere ... so therefore we are going forward with the deadlines as they are," Agen said.
"I think it is unlikely they will be able to get all the new cards or traditional passports out to the affected population in time so there will not be a disruption next year," said C. Stewart Verdery, former DHS assistant secretary for policy and planning and now a principle with Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti in Washington.

"Everybody's got to have something, including a one-time traveler coming from Kansas or New Mexico who may never have heard of this thing," he said.


"Right now Canada is waiting for technical specs on what they would have to build just to give their people something that would be readable by our readers," Verdery said. "We haven't given them any guidance."


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