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Government contractors brace for Real ID

SANTA FE, N.M. — Robert Rubin, president and CEO of Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, says the federal government’s decision to clamp down on the use of New Mexico driver’s licenses to access federal facilities starting in January could potentially shut down his 600-employee business.

He’s not alone.

“This could just be a disaster for a company like mine,” said Bill Miera, president and CEO of the 143-employee engineering firm Fiore, which manages research and development contracts with Sandia National Laboratories and with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base. “If we couldn’t get on base, we’d have to stop work, because we need access to the high-tech facilities there.”

New Mexico’s current law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses means the state is out of compliance with the Real ID Act, which was passed in response to 9/11.


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In October, the federal government declined to give New Mexico another extension on meeting its requirements. That means only employees with valid U.S. passports or other federal identification would have access to Rubin’s business.

Companies that provide products or services to Kirtland Air Force Base, seen above, or Sandia National Laboratories may need to get passports for their employees so they can continue having access to those facilities.

Companies that provide products or services to Kirtland Air Force Base, seen above, or Sandia National Laboratories may need to get passports for their employees so they can continue having access to those facilities. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Lovelace Respiratory Institute, which studies the treatment and prevention of respiratory diseases, operates at a 350,000-square-foot complex at the southwest corner of Kirtland Air Force Base. The complex is not technically on Kirtland property, but all of the Institute’s employees must travel through the base to get to it.

Although few private companies are in as dire a position as Rubin’s firm, many businesses that provide products and services to Kirtland and Sandia say they, too, are bracing for a major impact on their operations come January.

The Legislature is expected to take up the issue when it meets in January, but passing and implementing a fix could take months.

Since most of Rubin’s employees currently use driver’s licenses to access Kirtland, they may be forced to get passports to continue doing so after Jan. 10, when licenses would no longer be accepted.

“If we can’t access the base, we’d go out of business in a short time,” Rubin told the Journal . “We have hundreds of employees who service the animals we use here for biomedical research, and the vast majority of them don’t have passports. I understand that if the state doesn’t change the law to comply with federal requirements, my employees won’t be able to get to work, and if that’s the case, we’d just have to shut down.”

Likewise, the Albuquerque-based information technology management and engineering firm Kemtah Group is bracing for disruption. Kemtah, which has IT contracts with national laboratories and federal facilities nationwide, employs more than 100 people directly at Sandia, and it generally hires new people to work there every month, president and CEO Stephen Wade said.

“We’re considering drafting something for the state Legislature because we’re so concerned about this,” Wade said. “The employees we hire are usually fairly young in age, and most of those folks don’t have passports and they don’t carry birth certificates around with them. It will be a challenge to hire people and keep those positions staffed.”


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Kemtah’s problems could extend well beyond New Mexico, as the company’s employees travel frequently to labs and federal facilities in other states where the firm has contracts, Wade said.

“We work with many facilities in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, and if they don’t accept New Mexico licenses, all those operations could be impacted,” Wade said. “It could be very challenging.”

People who work directly for Sandia will not be affected, because those employees have government-issued access badges from the U.S. Department of Energy. Air Force personnel at Kirtland also have Department of Defense IDs to access the base.

But workers employed at independent facilities, such as Kirtland Elementary School, as well as employees for all private contractors servicing Kirtland or Sandia could be affected, said Sherman McCorkle, vice chair of the Kirtland Partnership Committee.

“A lot of people could be affected, whether it’s a telephone technician who has to go on base, or delivery people who drop food off at the commissary or dry goods at the base exchange,” McCorkle said. “Many of those people are not going to have passports.”

Passport challenge

Acquiring passports for employees could take a significant amount of time and create financial burdens for the companies or their employees.

Citizens can renew passports online with the U.S. Passport Office, but processing can take at least four to five weeks, and it costs $140 for each adult. In addition, people applying for the first time must do so in person.

At Applied Technology Associates, an engineering firm at Sandia Science and Technology Park that works with the Air Force Research laboratory and other federal facilities, at least a third of the company’s 300 employees will likely need to get passports, said ATA President Dan Gillings.

“We’ll have to make sure all our employees get them, either through their own funds or the company’s funds,” Gillings said. “We’ll have to start factoring that into our process.”

For now, Sandia and Kirtland have provided little information to assuage contractor concerns.

“We’re awaiting further guidance from the Department of Defense to tell us exactly what to do, but we haven’t received anything yet,” said Kirtland spokesman Carl Grusnick.

Refusing to accept New Mexico driver’s licences at federal installations is the first step being taken by the Department of Homeland Security. Sometime later next year, New Mexico licenses would no longer be valid to board a commercial flight.