WASHINGTON—The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday reported out legislation to fix the unworkable REAL ID Act of 2005, which sought to increase the security of drivers’ licenses in order to deny terrorists the ability to board airplanes and enter federal buildings.
The Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification (PASS ID) Act, S. 1261 would strengthen the security of drivers’ licenses and other identification, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission, in a manner with which states can comply. The bill was approved by a unanimous voice vote after being amended to require that motor vehicle departments verify the authenticity of birth records prior to issuing a driver’s license and to protect the current screening authority of the Transportation Security Administration.
The Committee also approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009, S. 372, the nomination of Tara J. O’Toole to be Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, two other nominations, seven other substantive bills and a series of postal naming bills, all by voice votes.
“I thank my colleagues for their hard work pushing through an ambitious agenda of legislation and nominations,” Lieberman said. “The PASS ID Act, in particular, is a critical piece of legislation that will make our country safer by keeping fraudulent identification documents out of the hands of terrorists. Secure identification is at the very heart of our homeland security. I believe we strengthened the security provisions in this bill today, and that is why I am pleased to support it. I am also pleased that federal employees – under certain circumstances – will be able to bring claims of employer retaliation to court under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which is part of our fight against waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.”
Collins, working with Senators George Voinovich, R-Ohio; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; and Lieberman, brokered the compromise language that protects airport security officials from potential lawsuits should they prevent passengers without a compliant driver’s license from boarding a plane. Language in the original bill could have had a chilling effect on these legitimate security activities, Collins said. Noting the importance of the compromise amendment, Collins said that “protecting TSA security officials from potential litigation when they exercise their skills, judgment and experience and refuse to permit a passenger without a compliant license to board a plane is absolutely critical. With this amendment, I believe the bill strikes the proper balance between the goal of improved security and the concerns about cost and privacy.”
The PASS ID Act improves the REAL ID law by providing states with the flexibility they need, reducing the costs of implementation, and ensuring privacy within the system. The Committee accepted a Lieberman-Collins amendment that also requires the verification of birth records, helps states digitize their birth records so that those records can be easily verified by motor vehicle departments, and clarifies the privacy restrictions on the personal information stored on a license. An amendment by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would require the Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security to perform an annual report on privacy implications of PASS ID was also accepted.
In other action, the Committee approved:
· The nomination of Christine M. Griffin to be Deputy Director, Office of Personnel Management
· H.R. 855, the Improved Financial and Commodity Markets Oversight and Accountability Act, as amended
· S. 1510, the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division Modernization Act of 2009
· S. 1288, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact Reauthorization Act of 2009, as amended
· S. 736, the Federal Hiring Process Improvement Act of 2009, as amended
· S. 1508, the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, as amended
· S. 872, the Effective Homeland Security Management Act of 2009, as amended
· S. 806, the Federal Executive Board Authorization Act of 2009, as amended
· The nomination of Stuart G. Nash to be Associate Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia,
· A series of Postal Naming Bills
The Committee also debated and approved several amendments to the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Funding Reform Act of 2009, S. 1507, but did not vote on final passage of the bill.