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Homeland Security

REAL ID Enforcement in Brief

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on December 20, 2013 a phased enforcement plan for the REAL ID Act (the Act), as passed by Congress, that will implement the Act in a measured, fair, and responsible way. 

Secure driver's licenses and identification documents are a vital component of our national security framework. The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver's licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.  The purposes covered by the Act are: accessing Federal facilities, entering nuclear power plants, and, no sooner than 2016, boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft. 

States and other jurisdictions have made significant progress in enhancing the security of their licenses over the last number of years. As a result, approximately 70-80% of all U.S. drivers hold licenses from jurisdictions: (1) determined to meet the Act’s standards; or (2) that have received extensions. Individuals holding driver’s licenses or identification cards from these jurisdiction may continue to use them as before. (See Section B of the sidebar)

Individuals holding licenses from noncompliant jurisdictions will need to follow alternative access control procedures for purposes covered by the Act. (See Section A of the sidebar).  As described below, enforcement for boarding aircraft will occur no sooner than 2016.

Description and Schedule of Enforcement Phases

The following enforcement measures are cumulative, with measures in each phase remaining in effect through successive phases. Each phase will begin with a 3-month period where agencies will provide notice to individuals attempting to use driver’s licenses or identification cards from noncompliant states but still allow access. After this period is over, agencies will no longer accept such identification for entry to Federal facilities, and individuals will need to follow the agency’s alternate procedures (to be made available by the agency).

Phase 1: Restricted areas (i.e., areas accessible by agency personnel, contractors, and their guests) for DHS’s Nebraska Avenue Complex (NAC) headquarters.

  • Phase 2: Restricted areas for all Federal facilities and nuclear power plants.
  • Phase 3: Semi-restricted areas (i.e., areas available to the general public but subject to ID-based access control) for most Federal facilities (subject to limitations described in the next section). Access to Federal facilities will continue to be allowed for purposes of applying for or receiving Federal benefits.
  • Phase 4: Boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft. A driver’s license or identification card from a noncompliant state may only be used in conjunction with an acceptable second form of ID for boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft.

DHS will conduct an evaluation following the implementation of the first three phases to assess the effects of enforcement and the progress of states in meeting the standards of the act. Before a date for Phase 4 is set, DHS will conduct an evaluation to inform a fair and achievable timeline. The date for implementing Phase 4 will be set after the evaluation has been complete; this phase will occur no sooner than 2016. The evaluation will also be used to inform the nature and timing of subsequent phases and to inform the pathway to full enforcement. DHS will ensure the public has ample advanced notice before identification requirements for boarding aircraft or entering additional types of Federal facilities change.   

Phase Enforcement Notification
1 Restricted areas for DHS/NAC 1/20/14 04/21/14
2 Restricted areas for all Federal facilities & for nuclear power plants 04/21/14 07/21/14
3 Semi-restricted for all Federal facilities 10/20/14 01/19/15
3a Facility Security Levels 1 and 2 10/20/14 01/19/15
3b Facility Security Levels 3, 4, and 5 07/13/15 10/10/15
2015 Review and Evaluation
4 Aircraft (Acceptable with 2nd form of ID)

No sooner than 2016

For more information on Facility Security Level, please see the Interagency Security Committee standard, Section Four


Access for activities directly relating to safety and health or life preserving services, to law enforcement, and to constitutionally protected activities, including legal and investigative proceedings will not be affected. Existing agency policies will still apply.

The Act does not require individuals to present identification where it is not currently required to access a Federal facility (such as to enter the public areas of the Smithsonian) nor does it prohibit an agency from accepting other forms of identity documents other than documents from non-compliant states (such as a U.S. passport or passport card).

The Act’s prohibitions do not affect other uses of driver’s licenses or identification cards – including licenses and cards from noncompliant states – unrelated to official purposes as defined in the Act. For example, the Act does not apply to voting, registering to vote, or for applying for or receiving Federal benefits.

For more information, please contact the DHS Office of State-Issued Identification Support at

Last Published Date: October 9, 2015

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