U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee that states have won a victory over an unfunded federal mandate after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted extensions for implementation of its REAL ID program to all 50 states.
“I had intended to offer an amendment that would have inhibited the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the REAL ID mandate on states until the federal government provides full funding for the implementation,” Alexander said. “However, the department has granted waivers to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and as a result of that my amendment won’t be necessary this year. But I still want to express my concern about the REAL ID mandate. While it won’t be necessary to offer my amendment this year, I continue to be at least one voice who will insist that if we are going to require REAL ID, we ought to fund it.”
The Real ID Act, which imposes minimum federal standards for state-issued driver's licenses, passed Congress in 2005 without any Senate hearings. It was added to a bill to fund troops in Iraq during a closed-door meeting.
Alexander said that “if Congress thinks that REAL ID is important, then Congress should pay for it and not mandate it on the states under our federal system. Today, there is $100 million in this budget for REAL ID, but $50 million of that comes from money that would have otherwise gone to the states. The governors have estimated that the total cost of REAL ID will be $4 billion, but before this year only $90 million has been appropriated and $6 million distributed.”
In March, Alexander announced his intention to offer an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2009 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to halt the REAL ID program unless the federal government provided funding to cover the cost of the mandate on states. Following Alexander’s announcement, DHS announced that it would grant extensions to all 50 states, so they could avoid being penalized for failing to meet the program’s deadlines. Alexander said he would consider offering an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations bill if the federal government fails to provide adequate funding for states to cover the cost of implementing the REAL ID program.