• TechLeader.TV’s radical proposals to fix California DMV

    June 6th, 2019 by jtflynn Categories: Blogs Tags: , , , , , ,

    I regaled our Techleader.TV (TLTV) live audience last month with accounts of my serendipitous meeting with Governor Gavin Newson as we boarded and deplaned on our flight from DC to Sacramento in March.

    Gov. Newson, a previous guest on TLTV, and I only had a brief time to chat. So naturally, me being California first Chief Information Officer, we talked state information technology.

    We began by exchanging pleasantries about his appearance on my show as we took our seats.

    But it was the few minutes we shared deplaning and heading out the terminal that were most memorable. On our way down the escalator I warned him about several specific IT projects: FI$CAL, the state’s billion dollar financial system that is years behind schedule and $400 million over budget. And was supposed to be done last July; and of course – DMV.

    According to Newson, while shaking his head slightly,,, frustratingly, he said, “The state has never been successful at IT,” and with that we parted.

    All of this is background for my primary point today – the never ending trail of tears that wanders along the corridors and field offices over at the poor California DMV.

    The governor’s so-called strike team presented its first report on DMV problems just last month; the third and I’m sure not the last DMV autopsy in recent months to point out the problems emanating out from DMV headquarters off 24th & Broadway here in Sacramento, and from the nearly 180 field offices across the state.

    The investigations by the State Auditor, the Department of Finance and now the Newson team have taken many months going back to last year.

    So what kind of radical changes and innovations did the Gavin administration bring forth?

    Their report recommended:

    More kiosks, creating a Chatbot – a fancy name for an artificial intelligence enabled help desk, redesigning the agency’s website, and Wi-Fi in DMV offices, that’s right, Wi-Fi, a bread & circus type solution to a real problem if there ever was one.

    Oh, and a $10 million marketing campaign. No, let me quote the report, “An aggressive $10 million marketing campaign.”

    And finally, as the governor demanded last January, the DMV will begin accepting credit cards…in January… 2020. Something we could do for ourselves in 30 minutes over our smart phones, and something my former home state where I was also CIO, Massachusetts, has been doing for 35 years.

    Alas… as Aesop wrote, the mountain has labored, and brought forth a mouse.

    Well, this was an “initial” report to be followed by a final report from the strike team in a month or so. So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that there’s more to come… a lot more, we should all hope.

    But know this, folks, according to the various reports. The DMV has 8,300 full time employees and a $1.2 billion budget.

    The absenteeism rate at DMV is 82 percent higher than the statewide average, almost double. Consequently, over a third of DMV clerk windows are vacant at field offices every single day.

    There’s a ‘secret’ DMV office at an unknown location in the bowels of a state office building conveniently located just across from the state capital, where only legislators, other elected officials and agency political appointees and their families of course can go, and of course avoid the inconvenience and the hoi poloi to conduct their DMV business. It’s like special shops for the old Soviet commissars, off limits to the less benighted.

    And if that doesn’t make your blood boil, how about this? There are between 1.5 and 2 million Californians driving around with secret license plates issued by the state. This policy goes back more than a generation when someone could go to DMV with a license plate number and get the name and address of the owner, a policy long outlawed. Ostensibly it was to protect law enforcement people from retribution from criminals, etc. But it can’t happen anymore. However, that hasn’t stopped the state from expanding the program to include everyone from correction officials to prosecutors, from judges to public defenders, police, even dispatchers. And their families, too of course. And finally our legislators who expanded the program in the first place.

    What do these secret license plates get you, one might ask? How about exemptions for toll violations and HOV lane abusers? Red light and speed cameras, C’mon man! These folks are special. When pulled over for a traffic infraction, the plates mark you as one of the “in crowd”, more than likely immune from getting a ticket. And trust me, these secret plate holders don’t have to go to the public DMV office like the rest of us, I’ll guarantee it.

    Finally, add to all this, the Viet Nam War-era licensing & registration computer systems which somehow seem to have defied modernization attempts including multiple initiatives over the last eight years.

    Well, what did I expect from the strike team’s recommendation, you ask? Well, here’s my two cents.

    I’ll bet there are 180 executives at DMV headquarters making executive level salaries that I would put on temporary assignment to oversee each field office for the next ninety days starting with the former DMV director’s direct reports.

    I’d give them those ninety days to do the following:

    • Reduce absenteeism by 50%;
    • Get DMV clerk windows staffed 95% of the time, every day;
    • Accept credit cards within 30 days;
    • Find some tech superstars around the state to build a 21st century DMV computer environment in 12 months, or take one from another state, they’re public domain.

    And, to paraphrase my old boss, President Reagan:

    • Mr. Newson, tear down the secret state DMV office. Today.
    • End the 2 million secret license plate scandal, and make all 2 million have to go to a DMV field offices personally to replace them.

    Finally, the coup de gras. Solicit bids from the private sector companies to take over all DMV operations. North Carolina did it years ago. No problem.

    Competition ensures improved service and performance, in elections, in schools and at the local DMV.

    Oh, there is one more item. Another old boss, Governor Bill Weld, when he was Massachusetts’ governor, he decided to renew his car registration in person. I know… unbelievable. He came back to a Cabinet meeting and asked the DMV director why we had to register our car every year. After much discussion around the table it was agreed; it was only done to collect taxpayers’ registration fees.

    So why couldn’t we register our car once for as long as we had it, for life. And since dealers are the ones who do it the most, the public’s trips to the DMV would be substantially reduced. Ah, but the money. Well, Weld said, bump the initial cost just a little and the rest would be announced as a tax cut. And so it came to be. At least for a few years until Weld left office.

    In California, my crack TLTV strike force, i.e., me, crunched the numbers. The car registration fee generates about $4 billion annually. So bump it 20% for a one time charge, and eliminate all out year payments. With all the new car taxes, gas taxes and healthy economy the state has a $20-30 billion surplus if you count this year’s rainy day fund allocation as well.

    Isn’t it time the taxpayers got a break, too.

    I think the state can afford it. And it will probably guarantee Newsom’s reelection!

    And Governor Newsom, your Strike Team is welcome to adopt these suggestions as appropriate. No attribution necessary!

    We’re all in favor of good government at TechLeader.TV.

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