‘Real ID’ Requirement For Driver’s Licenses Put ‘Humonguous’ Burden On American Samoa

No federal funds available to meet stringent regulations promulgated by U.S.

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 16, 2016) – With no more federal funding available so that American Samoa can meet the stringent requirements of the Real ID Act for state issued driver’s license and ID card, there were suggestions during a House Public Safety Committee hearing last Thursday to look at local revenues as a funding source.

The cost involved to be in compliance with the federal law “is humongous” for American Samoa, said Police Commissioner Save Liuato Tuitele, who testified at the committee hearing, which was called after concerns were raised by Rep. Vesi Talalelei Fautanu Jr about a cabinet director who was denied access to a federal building because her American Samoa Driver’s License was not in compliance with federal law.

Vesi was referring to Marine and Wildlife Resources director Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, who tried to enter a federal building in Honolulu. (See yesterday’s story for details.)

At the committee hearing, Save says the original US Department of Homeland Security funding to American Samoa was $300,000 but between 2008 and 2013 there were five change orders for the project increasing the total award to $1.9 million. Additionally, the last payment from USDHS to American Samoa went to purchase such things computers and cameras for the system upgrade.

Further, the entire $1.9 million has been used up and a recent inquiry to the USDHS office in California says they can’t provide any more money to complete what’s needed to be done for full compliance, that covers not only local driver’s license but also a local Government Issued identification card.

Among the provisions of the federal law is to have a secure building to house the entity that issues driver’s license and ID cards. Save says he is looking at local Homeland Security (ASDHS) director Iuniasolua Savusa to help secure federal funding for such a purpose, but it is possible there wouldn’t be any federal funds available.

Another provision requires background checks for employees involved in issuing driver’s licenses and Savusa, who was present at the committee hearing, says his department can conduct background checks.

“The $1.9 million [in funding] is all gone and nothing to show for it,” Vesi told the witnesses. He says the question now is “what can we do next” to comply with the federal law. Additionally, “is it worth our time to continue this program” to comply with federal law?

Save responded that the last question should have been resolved from the beginning before American Samoa started accepting federal funding as well as working on compliance. He believes the Fono should have been briefed from the beginning on this federal program.

He also believes that the previous governor, Togiola Tulafono, was not fully briefed on the program “before we accepted, taking the money from the very beginning.” The police commissioner said, “I seriously don’t think that Governor Togiola was briefed on this program.”

(It was during the Togiola Administration that the funds started to be released by the Federal Government for the Territory to become compliant with the Real ID Act.)

Save said the only usefulness of the driver’s license and ID cards under the federal law is to enter federal buildings, Congressional facilities, nuclear plants and board flights — something many states are against, i.e. using the ‘enhanced driver’s license for domestic air travel.

He reiterated that a lot of money is needed to fully comply with the federal law and that this matter should have been brought before the Fono for their input. He than posed the question, “Can we get away with having” a driver’s license or ID card, that is not compliant with the federal law.

He says the answer to this question shouldn’t come from him or DPS, but the Fono and Gov. Lolo Matalsi Moliga.

Vesi said the purpose of the federal law is good but the issue now for American Samoa is “how are we going to execute this project” with computers, cameras and other equipment already here.

Another committee member asked, if it’s absolutely necessary to have this enhanced driver’s license and ID as required by federal law, to which Savusa said, “No” but added that such identification makes it easy for many residents who do not have passports when traveling off island.

Savusa agrees with Save that this issue should have been brought before the Fono and should have been implemented correctly from the beginning to prevent what is now faced by American Samoa.

The DHS Director, as well as other committee members, believes that local revenues should be allocated to complete this project in order for American Samoa to be compliant. Savusa reiterated that the enhanced ID and driver’s license are using for local residents when they travel off island, and this is especially important for residents without a US passport.


Since enactment of the Real ID Act, USDHS said early this year that it has implemented the law in careful phases, including most recently at military bases, most federal facilities, and nuclear power plants.

The final phase of implementation of the law relates to commercial air travel and this has been extended to Jan. 22, 2018. Passengers without a driver’s license issued by a state that is still not in compliance with the Real ID Act — and has not been granted an extension — will need to show an alternative form of acceptable ID for domestic air travel to board their flight, i.e. a valid U.S. passport.

And starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2016. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

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