Rep. Debbie Lesko talks about bill to relieve Real ID-related travel disruption

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Last week, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) introduced legislation to mitigate travel disruption caused by the Oct. 1 Real ID deadline. The bill would require that PreCheck membership be an alternative to having a Real ID, that people be able to submit online applications and that the TSA implement alternative screening procedures for those who show up at airports without the IDs. News editor Johanna Jainchill spoke to Lesko about what Lesko said could be a "total nightmare" on Oct. 1.

Q: What put this on your radar? We're eight months out and you're making the first legislative move around it.

Debbie Lesko
Debbie Lesko

A: It was a combination of stakeholders like the tourism industry, the travel industry and the airline industry all being very concerned about this and that enough isn't being done because millions of Americans still don't have a Real ID. Oct. 1 is coming up soon. I voiced this concern in a Homeland Security committee hearing because I'm the top Republican on the transportation and maritime security subcommittee that has authority over TSA.

My act does several things. If you have PreCheck, that should be allowed as an alternative to Real ID. There is actually more vetting with PreCheck than with Real ID. So why get a separate ID for that? Another big one is to make sure TSA has a plan if this isn't going to be extended, which I'm going to guess they will extend it, otherwise there will be a huge problem. If they don't, what is the plan when thousands of people show up at the airport on Oct. 1 and later and don't have a Real ID? How will you vet these people so they can get on a plane? It seems like a total nightmare if they don't have a plan, so I'm trying to push TSA to come up with a plan.

Q: So you think another extension is in the cards?

A: That's a total guess. I have no insight. But you're talking about millions of people that don't have a Real ID, and it's only a few months away. It's unrealistic to think that these millions of people will get a Real ID in a few months if they haven't gotten it in a few years. And it's right before an election. I just can't imagine that Congress or the president or anybody will want a whole bunch of people stranded at the airport. The public would not accept that at all. But it's important for people to get a Real ID. There's a reason for this. It isn't just government bureaucracy. It's because the 9/11 Commission recommended it.

Q: Those recommendations came out in 2005 before you could do as much online and before PreCheck, which to your point vets people more than Real ID. Has Real ID kept up with what's happened in the last 15 years?

A: I talked to [TSA administrator David] Pekoske, and he's very enthusiastic about new technology and using new technologies to get more people through TSA security faster. TSA is really trying to encourage people to get PreCheck or Global Entry, which is already an alternative to the Real ID. I wanted to add PreCheck because it just makes sense as a way to push it. TSA is a little concerned because PreCheck doesn't have a card like Global Entry does, and I said, why not issue a card with PreCheck? I just wanted to do something, because it seemed like not much was getting done. What's really important, quite frankly, is communicating to the public. I said to the airlines in one hearing, "Why don't you do those announcements over the speaker [during flights] about this like you do with credit card applications?" People laughed, but, hey, why not? They have these signs at TSA checkpoints, but people don't look at that stuff. It's not as prominent as it should be. Administrator Pekoske was very receptive to all of this. But I've heard from other stakeholders that it's the bureaucracy underneath them that doesn't move as fast.

Q: Speaking of bureaucracy, we're eight months out. Is it even possible to get this passed and implemented in time?

A: I hope so, and if not, sometimes the goal of legislation is to do the legislation, but sometimes it's to push the agency. They don't like you doing legislation. They don't like it in law. They want to do it themselves. So sometimes you drop it to get them to move.

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