Opinion

Finessing Real ID plan

Gov. Mark Sanford deserves credit for engineering an equitable agreement in the Real ID dispute that will keep South Carolinians from being inconveni-enced at airports.

The governor had been at loggerheads with the federal Department of Homeland Security over regulations for meeting requirements to develop a national identification program called Real ID. Homeland Security had ordered states to begin implementing the program for a new, tamper-proof national ID card or ask for an extension by Monday.

Federal authorities told states that, if they failed to comply or get an extension, their residents would have to present a passport of other federal ID to board airplanes or enter federal buildings. Residents without federal identification might be forced to undergo further security checks.

Unfortunately, Homeland Security officials regarded a request for an extension as an agreement to comply with the law. Sanford, who opposes the Real ID program, wanted to avoid any promise to comply. But he also was under pressure to find a way to ensure that residents still would be able to use their state driver's licenses as ID when boarding a plane.

Fortunately, an agreement negotiated with federal officials accomplished both ends. Sanford refused to file for an extension, arguing that he was bound by a law passed last year by the Legislature that prevents the state from complying with the Real ID law.

But state officials also argued that South Carolina already has met, on its own, about 90 percent of the federal benchmarks for making its driver's licenses more secure. That apparently mollified Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, who gave Sanford the extension he never officially sought.

The extension ends the showdown between state and federal officials and allows both to save face. Sanford won't be responsible for inconveniencing travelers, and Homeland Security can claim it remains on track with the Real ID program.

We hope, however, that Congress will reconsider that program in the near future. As Sanford noted in a letter to federal officials, Real ID is seriously flawed on a number of fronts.

The program was attached as a rider on a military spending bill in 2005, so it never was fully debated in either the House or the Senate. The deadline for full enforcement of the bill has been extended twice -- the last time until 2011 -- in hopes of receiving more support from states.

But many states still strongly oppose Real ID. For one thing, the funding burden falls on the states. South Carolina would have to spend an estimated $116 million over 10 years to implement the program.

Real ID also presents privacy concerns. Critics fear it would make identity theft easier by storing sensitive personal information in one location.

This week's successful resolution of the dispute over requesting an extension gives South Carolina some breathing space. It also presents the opportunity for the state's congressional delegation to join with their colleagues from other states to give the Real ID program the healthy debate it deserves.

IN SUMMARY

Gov. Sanford managed to work out a compromise that won't impede air travelers.

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