As we predicted two months ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week postponed the October 2021 deadline for Americans to have REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses or identity cards to fly or enter many Federal facilities.

Several states – and especially California – were quite nervous about their departments of motor vehicles (DMV) being able to process in person millions of their residents who had not yet received their REAL ID card by this October.

As we wrote at the time, the REAL ID law sets forth the rules and criteria regarding state issuance of a driver’s license or identification card. That includes the look of the card, what data is on the card, what authentication documents must be provided to obtain one, and what information is stored in each state’s database of licensed drivers and identification cardholders.

It’s a vital issue for many because a REAL ID-compliant license or card will be required to board an airplane, and to enter many Federal facilities and other sensitive sites. Other documents such as a U.S. Passport will also be acceptable.

New Deadline Set for 2023

The latest announcement from DHS moved the new deadline to May 3, 2023. This is actually the third postponement of the REAL ID deadline, and it should give the procrastinators plenty of breathing room.

It’s only natural to blame government bureaucracies like the dreaded DMVs for the situation. However, obtaining the REAL ID card requires that folks visit their DMV in person to get one. Since the COVID pandemic forced the closure of many state DMV field offices across the country, that was impossible. So my prediction last March was an easy one, and I don’t think I should be buying a lottery ticket today.

Newsom Benefits

However, blame it on my jaundiced eye, but this latest postponement is a boon for California and especially for its governor, and I sense the possibility of some political legerdemain – or at least an extra helping of good luck that can result from pandemic impacts.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been literally besieged by state government challenges over his two years in office. Some of it has been beyond his control like the historic wildfires last season and, of course, COVID, but others offer little in the way of alibi. In the latter category are the debacles associated with the state unemployment system and of course REAL ID.

Before the pandemic really took hold last spring, Gov. Newsom’s biggest problem was the massive lines at DMV offices caused by – you guessed it – aging IT systems. At the time, according to DMV officials, six million residents still needed to come into one of their 172 DMV field offices before the October 1, 2021 deadline. Since then, with most offices closed or maintaining skeleton crews, that number is still fairly accurate and has meant that over a million people per month must visit a DMV office in California over the next five months.

For all the right reasons, there was bound to be pressure from the powers that be in California to pursue another extension, this time from the Biden administration.

But throw into that mix the fact that Gov. Newsom is facing a recall election this coming fall associated with a number of these challenges, and it’s possible to imagine the presence of a political thumb on the scale.

In the middle of the recall campaign this fall, the governor did not need the return of those massive DMV lines shown each day on the TV news, nor the chaos at California airports as grannie and grandpa are unable to visit the grandkids because their old drivers’ licenses were not REAL ID compliant.

However, just to prove that I’m not hook, line, and sinker into a California-instigated conspiracy campaign, it should be noted that DHS a month ago announced that only 40 percent of the 274 million state-issued driver’s licenses and identity cards nationwide were REAL ID compliant. So it’s not just a California problem after all, but it does still make for at least one lucky governor facing a recall election.

Either way though, it was easy for me earlier this year to forecast another REAL ID extension.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.