Napolitano Warns Airport Security Jams Ahead

Napolitano warns airport security jams ahead

By Stewart M. Powell
The Houston Chronicle, July 15, 2009

Washington, DC — Unless Congress drops a requirement by year's end for new super-secure state-issued driver's licenses to be presented at airport checkpoints, travelers will encounter massive delays and extra diligent security screenings, national security officials warned Wednesday.

Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano raised the specter of unpopular checkpoint backups to bolster the Obama administration's appeal for 'urgent' congressional revision of parts of the 4-year-old Real ID Act adopted during the Bush administration.

That's because few, if any, of the states are on track to satisfy the 18 enhanced security requirements for issuance of state driver's licenses mandated by a Dec. 31 deadline, Napolitano told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

That will leave millions of travelers without one of the most important documents the Transportation Security Administration screeners will require next year under the terms of the Real ID Act.

Passengers without enhanced security driver's licenses will face 'additional screening by TSA and one can only contemplate the inconvenience in airline travel that could occur if everyone has to undergo additional screening because they don't have a Real ID-compliant drivers license,' Napolitano testified.

Or, as Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut put it: The screening would be similar to what travelers now confront if they forget their identification documents.

TSA screeners check about 2 million airline passengers each day at 450 airports in the United States. A TSA official said it was premature to forecast the impact additional screening would have on lines at airport checkpoints.

Administration-backed legislation to revamp the Real ID Act would drop some of the unfulfilled provisions of the Bush administration-era law in order to win wider implementation by states.

The enhanced security requirements were adopted by Congress following the Sept. 11 attacks in which 18 of the 19 foreign hijackers carried state driver's licenses.

'The bottom line is that because of the states' objections to Real ID, the United States has not realized secure identification,' Napolitano said. 'There has got to be a better way.'

Twenty-five states have balked or refused to participate, citing costs or concerns about information sharing.

The National Governors' Association backs the changes, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, incoming chairman of the organization, told the Senate panel.

Lieberman, the panel's chairman, signaled quick action, scheduling committee consideration of the legislation on July 29.

Bill's author critical

But Napolitano's bid to win bipartisan changes in the law to gain wider implementation by the states met criticism by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of the Real ID legislation that raced through the Republican-led Congress in 2005. The changes sought by the Obama administration are 'a watered-down version' of the package signed into law by President George W. Bush, Sensenbrenner said.

The administration's changes 'would return the United States to pre-9/11 security standards,' the Wisconsin lawmaker said. 'Pass ID lowers security standards, allowing passengers to get on an airplane without a secure ID.'

Katherine Cesinger, press secretary for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said the state has obtained extensions for meeting some requirements for Real ID, Cesinger said.

As for the Obama administration's shift from Real ID to Pass ID, Cesinger said the governor would wait to see what emerged from Congress.

'Generally we've been in favor of a program that is not overly burdensome but that provides for a secure ID,' Cesinger said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CIS analysis of the PASS ID Act is available online at:


Congress urged to revise post-9/11 Real ID Act
By Stewart M. Powell
The Houston Chronicle, July 14, 2009