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So What, Exactly, Does The California DMV Strike Team Have To Fix?

By: Bridget Clerkin March 7, 2019
In 2018, California residents saw their average wait times at Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices increase drastically.
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That didn’t take long.

Just days after assuming the highest office in the state, newly-minted California Governor Gavin Newsom turned his powerful gaze upon the Department of Motor Vehicles, ordering nothing less than a full “reinvention” of an agency he called “chronically mismanaged”.

In a state with problems running from wildfire prevention to calls for a separatist movement, the nearly-immediate attention paid to the DMV may have come as a surprise to some, but Newsom and some other state officials have argued that nearly as many—and just as wide a breadth—of issues exist within the department itself, from financial concerns and legal hot water to a lack of leadership following the resignation of director Jean Shiomoto last year.

To help end the myriad of troubles the department is currently facing, the governor has called for a strike team to overhaul the agency. Led by state Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer, the group has been ordered to find a new DMV director, as well as focus on cultivating more transparency, worker performance, and speed at the office.

But even with those best intentions and clear goals in mind, the group may find itself facing some difficulty.

Worth the Wait?

Long lines and tiresome waits are nothing new at the California DMV, but the agency has been hit particularly hard by those issues for at least the past year.

Hours-long delays were essentially the norm throughout 2018, which saw DMV wait times increase by as much as 46% from the previous year. Even those with appointments were often ensnared in the lengthy lines, and making the appointment itself could carry as much as a 6-week wait.

The problem became so bad that the state legislature issued emergency appropriations last year for the agency to hire more workers, expand office hours, and build more self-serve kiosks across the state in an effort to alleviate DMV wait times. Still, the lines continued to snake.

Partly fueling the issue was some difficulty concerning the rollout of California’s REAL IDs. The identification cards will be federally mandated come 2020, and acquiring them requires some additional steps to be taken at the DMV.

Former director Shiomoto had said that the agency underestimated how long it would take to explain these changes to customers, which helped build up the lines. But DMV staff apparently had some trouble with the new requirements themselves, after it was revealed that the state failed to follow federal protocol when issuing some 2.3 million REAL ID cards last year.

Even the office technology was uncooperative, with widespread computer outages blamed for creating an essential standstill at 70 offices throughout the state, where customers were unable to have their licenses, state IDs, or vehicle registrations processed for several hours one day.

The pileup of problems became so high that then-Governor Jerry Brown ordered an audit of the DMV last September. And now Newsom has ordered a summary of the audit’s early findings to be delivered within 30 days, in an attempt to start working on the litany of issues.

Yet even with those early solutions underway, there were even greater problems the DMV of California faced last year.

At Your Service?

Aside from how long it took customers to receive their services, there were also problems with some of the DMV’s services themselves.

Among the agency’s more serious concerns were widespread reports that as many as 23,000 voter registration forms had been botched by the department as it struggled to adopt a new “motor voter” law last year, which enabled residents to register to vote at the same time that they applied for a license or state ID. The crippling issue hit just before last year’s midterm elections, and was such a pain point for the state, some legislators even called for scrapping the program all together.

But it was far from the only service that got spotty. Along with last year’s REAL ID roll out, the California DMV was also involved in some serious delays in 2016, when those hoping to take their commercial driver’s license test were put on hold for up to 12 weeks.

And increasingly impatient residents were even more enraged with the agency when it was revealed last year that a “private” DMV office was available for state lawmakers in Sacramento.

With such a wide range of issues to face down, the state’s strike force may want to start searching for a scatter shot approach, rather than a silver bullet.

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