State Hires Private Company in Panic Over Drivers Licenses

The heat’s on at Driver and Vehicle Services. Not only over the botched roll-out of the new and not-so-improved high-tech MNLARS vehicle registration system that continues to cause chaos at registrar offices statewide.

Now it’s dawned on the Department of Public Safety that the same thing could happen next fall when the technical wizzards at MNIT and DPS debut a new drivers license system that includes federal REAL ID requirements.

But the Dayton administration just blinked, effectively firing MNIT and DPS by hiring a private company at a cost of $26 million to tackle the job, according to the Star Tribune.

Following the bumpy rollout of a new vehicle licensing system, the state of Minnesota is hiring a private firm for similar upgrades to its drivers licensing operations.

Officials with Minnesota IT Services and the state Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that they’ve signed a $26 million contract with Fast Enterprises, a firm that has helped manage drivers licensing services in other states. In a statement, the leaders of the two departments said they expect the company will help ensure Minnesota is ready to begin issuing new licenses that comply with the federal Real ID law by October 2018.

“It is important to get this done right and get it done on time,” said Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman. “There are few services in state government as important or fundamental in the lives and businesses of Minnesotans than obtaining a driver’s license.”

It’s reassuring to see the Dayton administration affirm the fundamental importance of providing one of the public services Minnesotans have been able to take for granted all their lives, up until now.

Much of the work on the vehicle licensing changes was an in-house operation run by state IT workers. For drivers licensing, the state will hand off work to Fast Enterprises, and move two employees into leadership positions to oversee the project. The contract with Fast includes getting the software system up and running, along with five years of support and maintenance.

Officials said the money spent on the deal will come out of the bigger, $97 million project budget for MNLARS.

Yet the announcement of drastic changes in the team responsible for implementing a new drivers licensing system less than a year out from delivery raises questions. After all, the project has already been on the drawing board for roughly a decade.

Is the drivers licensing system currently on schedule? How much more work remains to be done? How does the mandate to implement REAL ID requirements affect delivery? How does dealing with the botched vehicle registration system affect DPS’ development and deployment of the drivers licensing system? Who will voters hold accountable if the system melts down a la MNsure and MNLARS when it’s rolled out in the thick of the election campaign next October?