Lost amid the scuffle of fiscal cliff negotiations and holiday preparations was the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) December 20 statement confirming that only 13 states were deemed REAL ID compliant and that the remaining states would receive another extension. Unfortunately, that means DHS isn’t sure whether 37 states are doing enough to safeguard their ID cards from costly fraud or terrorism-related abuse.

The REAL ID Act is almost eight years old, but due to multiple failures at DHS, it is still not fully implemented.

The act was passed in 2005 and follows the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to secure U.S. identification cards from misuse. After all, 18 of the 9/11 hijackers had a total of 30 driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs between them, and they used six of those IDs to board their planes the morning of the attack.

The REAL ID Act created a voluntary program for states to follow a set of certain common criteria for state ID systems to meet in the areas of facial recognition, document authenticity, data sharing between states, card security, lawful status verification, and issuer integrity. If a state does not meet these standards, its IDs will not be accepted for federal purposes such as boarding a plane or gaining entry to a federal building.

While it is encouraging to see 13 states certified as fully compliant with REAL ID, the extension given to the remaining states is the third such extension issued by DHS and represents yet another failure by the department to implement REAL ID. Originally slated for implementation in May 2008, REAL ID deadlines were extended because of bureaucratic sluggishness and opposition from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano herself.

This newest extension is the result of DHS’s failure to provide enough guidance on exactly what is needed for complete compliance. Indeed, the government’s own watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), has criticized DHS engagement with the states, saying that “DHS has not always provided timely, comprehensive, or proactive guidance to help states implement provisions of the Act.” As a result, the GAO recommended that DHS work more actively with states and other partners. Sadly, DHS formally rejected this recommendation.

Most states want to move forward with REAL ID but have been hampered by a lack of information and assistance coming from DHS. DHS should provide more guidance to help states become compliant with REAL ID standards and make U.S. IDs more secure, rather than continuing to issue extensions.