Governors: Security Checks to Cause Drivers License Costs to Soar

Governors: Drivers License Costs to Soar (AP)

In the name of homeland security, motorists are going to see costs skyrocket for driver’s licenses and motor vehicle offices forced to operate like local branches of the FBI, the nation’s governors warn.

The new federal law squeezed this spring into an $82 billion spending bill had Republican and Democrat governors fuming at their summer meeting here, and vowing to bring their complaints to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Monday meeting. “It’s outrageous to pass this off on the states,” said Republican Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, incoming chairman of the National Governors Association. “You’re essentially asking the front-line clerks at the DMV to become an INS agent and a law enforcement agent.” The law that passed in June goes beyond an earlier law that sought to standardize state driver’s licenses, requiring that states verify license applicants are American citizens or legal residents. “This is going to drive the cost of driver’s licenses for ordinary folks through the roof,” said Democrat Tom Vilsack of Iowa. “I think it’s going to drive people crazy.”

The law would demand skills of motor vehicle office clerks far beyond what is currently expected, governors said. Democrat Bill Richardson of New Mexico said the law, known as the REAL ID Act, unconstitutionally infringed upon state laws such as his, where illegal immigrants have been able to get licenses. New Mexico’s approach made roads safer since licensed immigrants could get insured, helped the state keep track of immigrants, and also helped integrate immigrants into the community, he said. “It’s a shortsighted, ill-conceived initiative,” Richardson said. “We’ll challenge it constitutionally.”

I confess that I don’t understand the administrative dynamics involved and it may be much more expensive than meets the eye. That said, I had to supply my birth certificate when I registered for school, when I was going out for sports, and at various other times. How much can it cost to require a clerk to take a look at the document, perhaps make a photocopy of it for the office files, and then check the appropriate box?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Well, in Virginia, the trend was for most licenses to be issued over the internet. I had done this previously and it was painless, but last month I had to renew in person with my citizenship documentation. DMV had hoped to lessen its front office operations by putting most of it on the web, but this requirement totally changed its plans and cause more work to be put into the offices. I can understand how the governors would view this as an unfunded mandate. Wasn’t unfunded mandates one of the big issues for Republicans when the Dems controlled congress and the White House? what’s changed?

  2. dougrc says:

    The costs involved are slight, maybe under a dollar, when you view the transaction individually. When you take millions of transactions and add one additional step to a process, you are talking about millions of dollars. Additional staff or additional hours of operation will be needed. That is not taking into the account the additional storage, both for the hard copy and for the digital image. Plus your database will have to be developed, too. $$$ That’s why governors hate unfunded mandates from Washington.

  3. M. Murcek says:

    No state government (or federal, for that matter) will pass up the chance to claim that some small administrative change results in the need for another massive assault on your wallet. The money will be used to defend the inevitable lawsuits when state DOTs predictably issue licenses to undocumented people in violation of the law.

  4. Scott in CA says:

    Tough shit. Cut some money from “social services” and use it to fund DMV. I don’t care if the damn license or ID costs $50. You only get one every few years, save your pennies. It’s ridiculous that four years after the attacks on NY, and with attacks continuing year after year, that we have to go through this nonsense just to have people verify who they are and that they are in the country legally. Personally, I’m over it. Deal with it. +

  5. DC Loser says:

    Well, why don’t we just have a national ID card? I know some people are appalled at the notion of having a national ID card, but then why have this fiction that a driver’s license should serve as a proof of identity for security reasons? If the federal government will just get off its ass and issue some standards for a national ID card, I’m all for it.

  6. legion says:


    The process you describe _is_ quite simple and inexpensive. But the implication I get is that those clerks will have to actually run a cursory check against some random database to ensure that the birth certificate, SS card, whatever, is valid. That too would be a farily reasonable expense (for those states that don’t already run such checks, which I’m sure must be rather few).

    The problem comes when someone shows up with a ‘red flag’. The guy in front of the clerk might just be some poor schlub who’s the victim of being mis-filed. Or he might be a crook trying to set up a fake ID. Or he might be a no-shit terrorist wannabe that’s just been unmasked. That’s what the critics are worried about when they say this will turn the DMV into the INS – those clerks just aren’t trained to deal with situations like that.

    Personally, I think the idea will fall out due to state-federal jurisdiction issues before it ever gets put into action… there are just too many people’s rice bowls being messed with here…

  7. Scott in CA says:

    If it takes retraining DMV workers, then retrain them. This is not rocket science here. As to the national ID, this essentially sets up a system that will function as one. Every state will have to certify the same paperwork, so it sets up a national standard for issuance of state licenses. Personally, I have no problem with a national ID, but it would probably be much easier to administer at the state level. Your information would go with you if you moved to another state, and they can just issue you a new ID knowing that you had been checked before. I never fail to be astounded at the whining people will go through when we are trying to fight a war and find the bad guys.

  8. ALS says:

    I don’t understand how some of the same folks afraid of using EZ-Pass ostensibly because the federal government can track them, are so in favor of a National ID Card program.

    (head shaking)

  9. Herb says:

    Oh, Oh, Here we go again. The states now have a vehicle to get more money out of the taxpayer. Maybe if the States could get those lazy bureaucrats off their lazy rear ends and do an honest days work, they could do this with no additional costs. Just tell me when you renewed you drivers license that you didn’t see one person working and about 3 or 4 just sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

  10. DC Loser says:

    I don’t understand how some of the same folks afraid of using EZ-Pass ostensibly because the federal government can track them, are so in favor of a National ID Card program.

    Maybe you were refering to my comments about the EZ Pass. Perhaps you missed the tongue in cheek nature of my comments about being paranoid? I have no problem with a national ID card as I’ve effectively had one for over 20 years in the form of military and government employee ID cards, which I provide as proof of my identity when I travel around the country.

  11. Brandon Harris says:

    The “Real ID Act” entails more than just showing your birth certificate at your state DMV and it’s implications and (and perhaps… unintended consequence’s) for your privacy (and security) could be profound.

    A sampling of requirements (and some of the issues, follows)

    “The card will likely take the place of your driver’s license and will store at the very minimum your name, birthdate, sex, ID number, a digital photograph and address, with the possibility of additional data such as a fingerprint or retinal scan and – a “common machine-readable technology” YET, to be determined (by ‘Homeland Security’) But, most likely, RFID tags. (Which anyone with a cheap RFID scanner will be able to read as well. From a distance.

    “State DMVs will have to verify that these identity documents are legitimate, digitize them and store them permanently”

    Never mind, the cost – it’s the “digitize and store them permanently” part that worries many. We all know how ‘secure’ .gov and commercial databases are. Don’t we? Don’t we? Choicepoint, Lexus-nexus, MasterCard…. ‘Hackers’, Trojans, Crooks…Identity Theft…Sound familiar?

    “The manager of a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles office was charged yesterday with selling driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants and others for up to $3,500 apiece.”

    And then, this little gem:

    “UK Government Plans to Sell ID Card Data.”

    Since, of course, all of this will ‘outsourced’ and implemented via ‘private’ contractors- Nothing to stop “Uncle Sam” from doing the same. How will you know where all of your personnel information is being ‘warehoused’? In a database in China or India, perhaps? Just who will have access to it? and how will access control and ‘security’ be insured?

    Nobody knows, because the details are vague as a result of another piece of legislation being tacked onto another vital bill in the middle of the night as it were, with no real review or hearings.

    “And the wackiest thing is that none of this is required. In October 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was signed into law. That law included stronger security measures for driver’s licenses, the security measures recommended by the 9/11 Commission Report. That’s already done. It’s already law.

    REAL ID goes way beyond that. It’s a huge power-grab by the federal government over the states’ systems for issuing driver’s licenses.”

    Since the U.S. Government is trying to force these same ‘standards’ (which have ‘yet’ to be determined) on the rest of the world as well. (And hence, certain proprietary technologies from certain ‘favored’ vendors)

    I would go father than, Schneier, and say- it’s a huge power grab by the Federal Government. Period.