ID
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), just finished a wide ranging discussion of the state of national security ranging from the status of securing maritime cargo and secure flight to foreign repair station rules and TSA unionization.

All these subjects have been bandied about for some time, but one subject is reaching a critical point — what to do about Real ID. Thirty states will are unlikely to meet the December 31, 2009 deadline.

If either the Secretary does not extend the current law, or Congress doesn’t pass the new PASS ID legislation before December 31st, the form of identifications that most American use everyday, their driver’s licenses, will no longer be accepted for security checks at airports to board domestic flights.

Granted, DHS has a secret loophole for those without ID to travel, however, it will mean secondary searches for the majority of passengers if current driver’s licenses from 30 states are not considered acceptable ID. I don’t even want to imagine the holdup at security.

Plus, for many passengers with airline tickets who might not know of this loophole that allows those without IDs to board, this rule will be confusing. Many may think they have to change plans, cancel flights and pay major penalties. Having such a major change in the day-to-day activities of tax-paying Americans left so uncertain within 28 days of implementation is dereliction of duty by DHS.

The Real ID Act also bars access to federal buildings to folks stuck with unreal ID at the start of the New Year. I haven’t heard of any loophole for that rule yet.

This all seems a bit surreal.

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico asked Secretary Napolitano, at the Senate committee hearings, directly, whether she would assure all Americans that she would extend the current identification laws at the end of the year to allow Americans to continue boarding planes. He suggested that she do it right then in front of the committee. She declined, citing a new law, PASS ID, that may or may not be passed by the Senate.

“As you know, more than 30 states, including New Mexico, are unlikely to meet the December 31, 2009 deadline,” Udall noted. “While we understand the Administration’s desire to enact the PASS ID Act in lieu of granting an additional extension, the uncertainty surrounding the steps the Department may or may not take if the legislation is not signed into law is creating confusion and raising serious concerns in the many states that are not currently in full compliance with existing law.”

Senator Udall is absolutely correct. The Secretary of Homeland Security should not be playing chicken with Congress and the American people. Obviously, the Real ID law is on its way into oblivion and something new is coming. The only question is when.

As a columnist for “What’s Brewin” on nextgov.com noted, he may not be able to fly home from Hawaii after his Christmas vacation.

Otherwise, I’ve figured out an update to the Kingston Trio’s 1959 hit, “The MTA Song,” about the man who never returned from a trip on the Boston subway system because he did not have an extra nickel for a transfer.

So, sing along with me:

Bob handed his drivers license
At the TSA counter
To get on the plane
“Where’s your passport?” the TSA agent asked
Bob could not get on that plane.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d

He may stay forever
On the beaches of Hawaii
He’s the man who never returned

Guess he doesn’t know about the secret loophole. There are probably more citizens out there who may be similarly confused. With 28 days to go, this isn’t funny any more.

Secretery Napolitano owes it to American citizens to let them know what will be required of them in order to fly come January 1st. I see no purpose being served by waiting until the last minute in order to force legislative action on the coming PASS ID act. When the Congress acts in haste as they did with Real ID, Americans are saddled with laws that are not workable and difficult to get off the books.

Let the American people know what’s happening and try to get the national identification processes right this time around. No matter what Secretary Napolitano claims, the new PASS ID act still has plenty of problems with technology, costs and privacy.

NOTE: It appears that Sec. Napolitano has blinked. A DHS spokeman issued the following statement after the Senate hearing:

“Should Congress not act before it adjourns this year, DHS has planned for contingencies related to REAL ID implementation, including extending the deadline as a last resort,” he added. “This is a temporary approach that does not advance our security interests over the long-term, and DHS continues to urge Congress to enact a permanent solution to fulfill this key 9/11 Commission recommendation.”