Metro-East News

Visitors to Scott Air Force Base can still use Illinois driver’s license for ID — for now

Scott Air Force Base for now is allowing vistiors to use Illinois driver’s licenses to gain access to the sprawling air base near Mascoutah. But that could change soon with additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Since the start of January, military bases across the nation stopped accepting IDs from Illinois and four other states — Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and Minnesota — because their driver’s licenses and ID cards did not meet federal standards under the REAL ID Act.

In Illinois, however, the question of what ID will suffice has been left to the individual base commanders. Scott’s leadership has decided to continue to allow Illinois driver’s licenses to serve as sufficient ID for base visitors, according to Karen Pettit, a spokesman for the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which runs the base.

“Until the DoD comes down and gives us further guidance, we’re preoceeding with our current procedures, and that is how we’re vetting all visitors with the driver’s licenses as a form of ID,” Pettit said. “So we’ll continue to do that.”

But on Thursday, the Pentagon announced it will “soon” provide formal instructions to military base leaders on what forms of ID will be sufficient to allow visitors to enter military installations in Illinois and the four other states that still don’t comply with the federal law.

“DoD has formal guidance for access control and issue informal (REAL ID Act) guidance,” according to Navy Cmdr. Linda Rojas in a statement. “Additional formal guidance regarding authorized identification for physical access is in staffing and is expected to be published soon.”

Already, in Illinois, some federal facilities are putting into practice the new ID requirements. The Rock Island Arsenal, an Army facility in northwestern Illinois, on Monday will begin requiring visitors to provide a second form of ID in addition to an Illinois driver’s license, according to garrison spokesman Eric Cramer.

An Illinois driver’s license “can’t be the sole form of ID,” Cramer said. “So, for example, you’re a veteran and you need to gain access to the arsenal. You have your Illinois driver’s license and DD 214 (record of military service) showing your service. Those two together will work. A passport, a transportation workers card” will work.

Scott Air Force Base is sticking with current ID procedures, under which an Illinois driver’s license or state ID will suffice for base access.

In contrast, the U.S. Navy’s Naval Station Great Lakes, the Navy’s only boot camp, located north of Chicago, requires that all visitors be vetted in advance by the military or escorted by a military member, in addition to presenting an Illinois driver’s license or other accepted ID.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Illinois air travelers two-year reprieve to use their driver's licenses and ID cards to get through airport security and onto a plane. DHS’s decision to grant Illinois the reprieve on airport access follows an earlier decision to reject a third deadline extension requested by the state for meeting REAL ID standards that were put in place a decade ago.

In addition, federal courthouses will continue to accept Illinois driver’s licenses and ID cards. The federal government waived federal courthouses from complying with REAL ID to ensure public access to court proceedings.

The reason Illinois has failed to meet the tougher federal requirements under REAL ID, even though they were mandated a decade ago, hinges on the immediate fact the General Assembly has so far failed to pass a law authorizing the implementation of the tougher standards, according to Henry Haupt, a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state’s office.

But that failure stems from a series of factors that include cost, logistics and philosophical differences over privacy rights.

One of the major stumbling blocks for implementing the federal law is cost to both the state and individuals. The estimated state cost for that effort ranges between $50 million and $60 million.

“It is an unfunded federal mandate,” Haupt said, noting that driver’s license applicants would, in addition to providing their Social Security cards, would have to provide a second form of ID, such as a certified birth certificate or passport. In addition, the state’s more than 130 driver’s license facilities would have to be reconfigured and remodeled, Haupt said.

“So we would have to put the camera up front and we would have to reconfigure how the system works programatically and computer-wise,” he said. “Each step works into the next step. So we would have to reconfigure that whole process.”

More costs would be added to the state price tag, as the additional ID documents would have to be fed into a giant federal database, with fees charged for scanning and uploading millions of additional documents into the database.

The process wouldn’t be cost-free for Illinois residents, either. A certified copy of a birth certificate costs $15, while fees for a first-time adult passport total almost $200.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000