Getting REAL: Deadline approaches for new IDs required for access to federal agencies

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This article was originally written for Alaska Contractor Magazine.


Beginning Jan. 2, 2019, Alaskans will be able to apply for a REAL ID credential. Alaskans would be able to on Jan. 1, but the Department of Motor Vehicles is closed on New Years Day.  

The REAL ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005, “established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s license and identification cards and prohibits federal agencies from accepting for official purposes licenses and identification cards from states that do not meet those standards,” according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website. REAL IDs are designed with added security features that are designed to prevent tampering or falsification.

Alaska was granted an extension for the act, which allows federal agencies to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards from Alaska residents until Oct. 10, 2018. The extension was permitted to give the state time to complete necessary upgrades to begin producing cards compliant with the REAL ID law.

One difference between a standard ID and a REAL ID is that the REAL ID has a star cutout in the right-hand corner. A REAL ID costs an additional $20 on top of current fees.

Marla Thompson, director of Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles, said implementing the REAL ID Act may be more difficult in rural areas of the state.

“I believe that the hardest areas are going to be those that don’t have easy access to a DMV,” Thompson said. “We will continue to work with native corporations and organizations in the rural markets to help make sure we find alternate methods to provide DMV services.”

The first REAL ID driver’s licenses and ID cards won’t actually be produced until January 2019, Thompson said. When the bill went into place last year, it allowed the DMV to spend money to make the system adjustments that it needed to do, as well as design a new card.

“We’re working hard. There’s a lot of things that we have to do on our side and systems that we have to have in place. We’re working with (the Department of) Homeland Security to make sure that we are in a good space to be able to deliver the REAL ID,” Thompson said.

The state has an extension in place with the Department of Homeland Security and will continue to apply for one this year until the state receives final approval. The extension would close the gap between Oct. 10, 2018, and when the current extension ends, January 2019. Thompson says that there is no reason why the DMV will not be granted the extension.

“There is no reason to think that we won’t get it. We don’t want people to think they won’t be able to get on base in Oct(ober) of this year, we will have an extension in place and folks don’t need to panic,” Thompson said.

Half of all U.S. states have already met the REAL ID minimum standards. The act restricts access to federal facilities, nuclear power plants, commercial aircraft and military bases. The only state or territory that is not compliant with the REAL ID Act is American Samoa, which covers seven South Pacific islands. Since Feb. 5, 2018, American Samoans have been no longer able to use territory-issued driver’s licenses or IDs to fly domestically. They also are not allowed to enter federal buildings and military bases without federally-approved identification.

Many Alaskans who work on a base, at the Port of Alaska and other federal facilities in the state will be affected by the REAL ID Act. Keisha Lafayette, public affairs specialist for 673d Air Base Wing for Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, said in an email that the REAL ID Act will not affect military members, dependents, retirees or other common access cardholders. Visitors and contractors with Alaska driver’s licenses will still be allowed unescorted entry onto federal installations after the October 10, 2018 deadline, with the extension that is being requested from DHS. Each extension has been granted thus far regarding the REAL ID Act.

“Residents from a state/territory that is compliant with REAL ID or non-compliant with REAL ID but has received an extension may continue to use their current state/territory-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, regardless of whether the card is REAL ID compliant or not, for accessing federal facilities, including military bases,” according to DHS’ website.

Anyone who works for a transportation or shipping company in Alaska will need to be compliant with the REAL ID Act. Athena Sampson, human resources generalist for Span Alaska Transportation, a premier freight provider that employs more than 200 people, says that their work on federal and military sites will be minimally affected.

“The only change that we will need to implement is to make certain that all DOT drivers and other individuals accessing federal sites have approved identification through the REAL ID Act,” Sampson said. “We will be reminding our drivers of the REAL ID Act status as of January 1, and will confirm that all of our drivers are compliant. Drivers not in compliance will be unable to access the bases in which we deliver freight, so we will take every opportunity to ensure that we are all prepared as soon as possible.”

Span Alaska ships over 400 million pounds of freight annually to Alaska and is based in Auburn, Washington.

“Because Alaska has an extension, there is no real immediate impact, but as of January 1, 2019, all of our drivers and employees accessing federal sites will need to apply for the REAL ID or Drivers License,” Sampson said.

After Oct. 1, 2020, all Alaskans will need to have a REAL ID-compliant license or other form of identification for domestic air travel.

To receive email or texts alerts on the REAL ID Act and its effects on Alaska, sign up at

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

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