Can New Management Salvage Disastrous New Vehicle Licensing System?

Tens of thousands of Minnesotans have been traumatized by a close encounter with the state’s new dysfunctional vehicle licensing system. It’s so bad that Gov. Dayton recently apologized for the beyond embarrassing debut of a system that was tens of millions of dollars over budget and years late in development. The rocky roll-out appears to be giving the legendary meltdown of the MNsure website in 2013 a run for the taxpayers’ money.

It was obvious long before the system went live last summer that the state’s MNIT unit designing the system needed to go back to the drawing board. Or better yet, needed to go altogether.

But the Dayton administration ignored the warning signs. Now that it’s too late to undo the damage, a gesture toward accountability appears to be in the works, according to the Star Tribune.

A state official key in developing Minnesota’s troubled new $90 million computer system for vehicle licensing is no longer working on the project, and the agency is making several changes in management.

Paul Meekin, who was involved with the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS), is on a leave of absence, according to the Minnesota Information Technology Department (MNIT), which serves as the technology agency for the state’s executive branch. Meekin is still listed on MNIT’s website as chief business technology officer for the state Department of Public Safety. He could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

The state appears to be cleaning house at MNIT, just in time to clean up the mess. Not that things will likely get any better any time soon for anyone who must deal with the vehicle registration system.

MNIT said Friday that it’s making changes to the project’s management structure, including hiring and assigning new officials. It has hired Dana Bailey as executive director of projects and initiatives. Bailey was St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s chief of staff and former senior adviser to Dayton.

It also will replace the software development director; the yet-to-be-named new hire is expected to start next week. Joan Redwing, MNIT’s chief enterprise architect, will also be assigned to the project.

MNIT is the same bureaucracy that’s responsible for implementing the REAL ID system that has to be up and running by next October. But no worries. The Dayton administration has an app for that.

On top of the management shake-up, officials plan to hire an outside vendor to work on the driver’s license side of the system, including Real ID.

“Minnesotans should know that we are committed to working around the clock to ensure that issues with the current system are resolved, and that Minnesotans are able to access Real ID-compliant licenses in accordance with federal mandates and timelines,” said Thomas Baden, MNIT’s chief information officer.

If MNIT fails to implement a reliable REAL ID compliant system by this time next year, MNsure and MNLARS will look like a blip in comparison.