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Minnesota DVS Now $10 Million Deeper into Software Mess

By: Bridget Clerkin March 28, 2018
Minnesota's Department of Public Safety is requesting another $10 million to fix software meant to help state residents more easily obtain driver's licenses and renew vehicle registrations. The software has been a high-profile boondoggle for the state.

After spending nine years and $90 million on a botched attempt to update essential computer software, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) has come up with a solution: throw more money at the problem.

North Star State legislators approved a $10 million emergency funding plan earlier this month to extend the repair of the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS), the program used by the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) to handle vehicle titles, driver licenses, and license plates.

The software update has been a headache for state leaders since its initial launch in July, responsible for thousands of botched DVS transactions, millions in repair costs, and several high-ranking employee departures.

Among other items, the stopgap measure will pay for the continued service of 39 IT engineer contractors hired by the state to work out the numerous bugs in the software—positions the DPS would have otherwise been unable to continue funding by the end of the month. But that help comes at a price.

The emergency legislation passed by the state includes a number of provisions to ensure the money is spent well, including the creation of a six-member “steering committee” tasked with reviewing MNLARS updates periodically and granted the power to cut off funding to the repair on a quarterly basis. An outside auditor will also be brought on to ensure the project remains above board.

Still, the money is just a portion of what DPS officials say they need to complete the fix. Agency leaders originally asked for $43 million to get MNLARS up to speed by the fall of 2019, and state legislators will have to consider issuing more cash to the group before this legislative session is up at the end of May.

Complicating the issue is the October 10 deadline by which Minnesota must comply with the REAL ID Act, federal legislation laying the groundwork for a much stricter process when creating state-issued identification. Driver’s licenses and state ID cards not in compliance with the law by that date will prevent holders from boarding domestic flights and entering military bases, among other restrictions.

After passing a 2009 law barring state officials from even exploring REAL ID, Minnesota already started out far behind in the adaption process, and the MNLARS debacle has put the state at further risk of missing the federal deadline. Compounding the pressure to fix the system quickly is the widely-anticipated surge of activity at DVS offices as new license applications are expected to pour in before the October cutoff. Part of the newly-passed provision requires Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to seek an extension for the state to comply with the REAL ID Act, but it remains to be seen whether the federal government will grant the request.

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