By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – A Missouri senator’s staff dug through reams of Department of Revenue correspondence to unearth this gem: Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration told federal officials of a plan to scan residents’ documents at license offices three months before a surprised public discovered the sudden policy change.
The DOR delivered dozens of boxes of emails to Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s office last week after the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee subpoenaed the department for records pertaining to its new policy of collecting the information of applicants for driver’s licenses and concealed carry permits.
Controversy ignited in March when it came to light that the DOR had directed license office clerks to scan residents’ personal documents instead of only reviewing them, as state law requires. The digital data is being sent to a state database.
Nixon recently told reporters his administration was not “collecting a bunch of unuseful data to send to some sort of magical database someplace to mess with people.”
He has denied attempting to comply with the REAL ID act, a 2005 initiative attempting to impose universal technological standards and verification procedures in each state to create a de facto national ID card.
But one of the documents Schaeffer released Tuesday, a Dec. 12 letter from former DOR director Alana Barragan-Scott to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, documents Missouri’s progress toward complying with Real ID provisions.
“Missouri’s security standards for the issuance of driver licenses and identification cards are comparable to or exceed the substantive security standards of the federal REAL ID Act,” Barragan-Scott wrote.
The letter noted Missouri’s plan to retain digital images of source documents and a database of all information on residents’ driver’s
licenses or state ID cards along with a checklist of the areas in which Missouri fell in line with REAL ID requirements.
DHS said only 19 states have met Real ID requirements as of Feb. 25. Holders of licenses from states that don’t meet the standards of the law pushed by congressional Republicans and signed by President Bush could be barred from boarding airplanes or entering federal facilities.
Current DOR Director Brian Long told the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee in March that his department is trying to detect and stop fraud with its new scanning practices, and that the information is not shared with the federal government.
That point was re-iterated in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Trevor Bossert, general counsel for the revenue department, told lawmakers he advised against publicly publishing a rule change in part because it would create an “administrative burden.”
“You should have told the public,” Schaeffer told DOR officials at that hearing.
Revenue department spokesman Ted Farnen said in an email to the Associated Press on Tuesday that the agency “has not been, is not now, and does not intend to comply with Real ID” and that Barragan-Scott’s letter simply underscores the state’s commitment to issuing secure IDs.
Schaeffer’s now pushing state auditor Thomas Schweich to investigate the license fee offices.
In a letter to the senator Wednesday, Schweich said he had already planned to audit five license offices in 2013, as well as follow-up on issues that arose during audits of other license offices last year.
“We will make it a priority during these audits to investigate concerns related to scanning source documents,” Schweich wrote.
The Nixon administration’s denial has put conservative groups on the offensive. Carl Bearden, director of United for Missouri, recently started a website he calls Wrong Way Jay, which is highly critical of the Democratic governor and asks Missouri residents to share their stories from license offices.
“It’s time for Governor Nixon to take this issue seriously,” Bearden said. “He should step up and take responsibility for the department’s actions, assure Missourians he will get the answers and support a full and comprehensive audit of DOR.”
Schaeffer noted that the Senate is now in the budgeting process, giving the legislature a powerful card as it seeks answers from the revenue department.
“It would be irresponsible of us to give the Department of Revenue more of the people’s tax money to carry out these same activities of sharing private documents with outside entities without telling taxpayers,” he said.
Contact Johnny Kampis at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Missouri Watchdog updates, visit Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for our free newsletter with investigative reports and breaking news alerts.