Committee Members Press DMV on Pattern of Questionable Interpretation of Laws

A hearing that began with conflicting stories between the Department of Motor Vehicles and a vendor ended with questions of DMV’s compliance with state law. Along the way, members had many questions for DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Idemia North America Vice President for Global Corporate Relations Lisa Shoemaker during the Thursday, June 6 House Oversight and Reform hearing.

From 6:45 on February 15 to 5:45 on February 20, DMV software improperly allowed 2,136 customers to renew their licenses. By the time DMV recognized the problem, its vendor Idemia had already printed many of the requested licenses. Idemia and DMV blamed each other for the eventual decision to find and retrieve the problem cards from among 33,000 printed at the same time. Idemia halted production to conduct the search and did not resume until March 4. Over the next few weeks, the backlog from missed production days and high demand for IDs grew to more than 350,000. Some people were waiting two months to receive their credentials.

Although DMV and Idemia disputed each other’s interpretations of events, both agreed that Idemia will be back on track by June 30. In addition to the 10,000 daily units Idemia produces in Sacramento, California, the company expanded production to its Springfield, Illinois, plant on May 13.

Committee members targeted their questions on the legality of this decision. Chair Harry Warren (R-Rowan) cited Commissioner Goodwin’s May 6 letter to all members of the General Assembly. “As you know,” Goodwin wrote, “the Division of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) is required to have all credentials produced and issued from a central location. N.C. GEN. STAT. § 20-1(c1)(5) [N.C. GEN. STAT.§207-(f)(5)].”

At the hearing, DMV debated the meaning of “central location” while also acknowledging that the law should be changed to accommodate the transition between two vendors. Chairman Warren asked Commissioner Goodwin whether he had asked for a change in the law, recognizing the challenges it presents. Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow) also raised concerns about DMV’s willingness to solve one problem by selectively interpreting the law. Goodwin argued that central location could mean “one company.” Cleveland responded, “When Idemia opened another facility, they broke our state law, and you, I understand, did nothing about this.”

Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) joined Cleveland and Warren in questioning DMV’s interpretation of state law. Chesser asked about DMV’s contracting exemption under HB650 (SL 2021-134) and its willingness to sign a contract for driver’s license production that conflicted with General Statute §20-7(n)(4) which specifies a physical license must include a color photo. Counsel Drew Marsh wrote in his April 12 response to chairs of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, “…DMV had a good faith belief at the time prior to and shortly after entering the contract that the State might be amenable to amending that statute, if in fact it was necessary.”

Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) discusses the new driver’s license design during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Thursday, June 6, 2024.

Chesser held up a poster showing what the updated driver’s license will look like. The license includes a small color photo on the back that required purchase of $3 million in additional equipment and led to a 13% increase in price per card to $2.91 from the originally contracted price of $2.55 per card.

Although DMV’s contract with Idemia and its predecessors dated back to 1996, Goodwin said, “It was our understanding that the legislature had changed the law previously whenever there was a change with contractors.”

“Changing the law at a previous date doesn’t mean you were in compliance with the current law,” Chesser responded.

With the disputes over the meaning of “central location,” the need for a color photograph on driver’s licenses, and DMV’s exemption from Department of Information Technology contracting procedures and oversight, Chairman Warren summed up his frustration: “The department sems to have a pattern of interpreting statute as it best fits your need.”

Idemia has sued DMV over its contract award to Canadian Bank Note Secure Technology, Inc. (CBN-STI). Any judgment in the lawsuit could affect DMV’s ability to use the exemption. The transition to CBN should be complete by July 1, and with the backlog resolved, will settle for now the color photo requirement and the definition of “central location.” DMV has added another series of projects to replace its core systems for driver’s licenses and vehicle titles under the HB650 exemption, so that controversy will continue as will the possible need to amend state law.

While DMV was the focus of the hearing, members complained that other agencies have taken similar liberties with the law. “If you want to circumvent the law, counsel is a good way to go.… I see that being done. Not only in your organization, I see it in other agencies that I have the pleasure of overseeing, and it’s something that really needs to stop,” Cleveland said.

Driver’s License Backlogs, Kiosks, Summer Rush Top of Mind for House Oversight, Commissioner to Testify

Raleigh, NC – The House Oversight and Reform Committee has requested Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin to appear before the committee Thursday, June 6, at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Building Auditorium.

Members of the committee will be seeking answers on problems old and new. Goodwin is expected to address the backlog of delivery of driver’s licenses and state IDs and report on the implementation of kiosks. Members will also question the commissioner on the transition to a new vendor for credentials, expectations for the summer DMV office rush, and the status of license plate agencies.

“Drivers have enough frustrations dealing with the DMV without additional delays in getting their licenses. I expect Commissioner Goodwin will be able to explain the reason for the delay and what measures the DMV is taking to fix this latest problem quickly,” co-chair Harry Warren (R-Rowan) said.

Members will also be following up on questions from last year’s House Oversight hearing and a February meeting of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee.

“DMV deserves scrutiny,” said co-chair Jake Johnson(R-Polk). “It is one of the most conspicuous services of state government, so it should set the bar for customer service. We know its problems and I hope Commissioner Goodwin will be able to tell us about its progress.”

Joint Transportation Oversight Committee Seeks Answers for DMV Customers

It is not only widely accepted but widely expected that the Division of Motor Vehicles does not serve its customers well. The Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee will meet Thursday, Feb. 29 to address this and other topics with DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin.

When U.S. Army veteran Tyler Tickle moved to North Carolina from Ohio, he went to four DMV offices to get a license in his new state. Even though he arrived “as early as possible,” he was told he wouldn’t be seen that day, with employees recommending an appointment. Tickle experienced the inevitability of the online appointment system—none are available for three months. So, three months later, Tickle was back in the hopes of checking the requirement off his list.

“Zero out of 10,” he said. “I’m extremely unhappy with this whole DMV issue.”

Tickle’s experience is representative of what many customers encounter.

Customers run into multiple roadblocks when on the DMV’s website. They can’t always tell what services are available online. They receive instructions from the website and the email help desk that conflict with what they hear when they go to a driver’s license or license plate office. They often find appointments booked for the next three months because the DMV only provides appointments in the morning, which leads people to go early in the morning to their local office or drive hours away to an office they know has shorter turnarounds.

“Zero out of 10.”

New N.C. resident Tyler Tickle rating his DMV experience

When people give up and go to the driver’s license office without an appointment, the in-person experience is also rife with frustrations. The DMV touts its “queue anywhere” system that lets people check-in with a QR code or text message and leave the line, but some offices do not display the code at all, others make it available only after noon. Some offices have the QR code inside and make it available only after verifying a customer has the right paperwork, while others have it in the parking lot. This means there is no clear measure of wait times from one office to another. Worse, nobody can check in from their home, something that restaurants and chain hair salons offer.

At least two people who spoke with legislative staff said the instructions they received at the office differed from what they found online or received by email.  One exasperated customer said, “I think if you get anything straightened out at the DMV, it’s a miracle.”

Not surprisingly, parents of new teen drivers are among the most frustrated. From the first learner’s permit to their full provisional license, teens must appear at the DMV three times in 18 months. Because the DMV’s online appointment book only goes out three months, they cannot set their next appointment when they are in the office, something any dentist’s office can do. Some of these visits could even be handled online.

“This office is a madhouse with people coming from all over the state,” one DMV employee said. “My people work hard, we get ’em in and get ’em out.”

Staff at driver’s license offices and license plate agencies are professional and courteous, making the best of a difficult situation and often instituting productivity hacks to improve customer service. The systemic fixes that are needed will require the DMV’s leadership to put the same emphasis on customers whether online or in person.

Thursday’s hearing will address a range of other issues DMV internally, with franchised license plate agencies, car dealers, and vendors that all impact customer service.

Despite the challenges, Rep. Howard Penny (R-Harnett, Johnston) is looking for progress at the committee meeting: “It is our job to make sure the DMV operates as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

DMV Testifies on Driver’s License Controversies

Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin defended the DMV’s handling of two driver’s license controversies in his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday. Goodwin and Chief Deputy Commissioner Portia Manley told committee members the unusual process to select a driver’s license printing vendor was appropriate. Goodwin also addressed questions about a budget provision to extend the eight-year driver’s license renewal period to sixteen years.

Sixteen-Year Driver’s License Renewal Period

 The REAL ID Act of 2005 requires that state driver’s licenses cannot be valid longer than eight years. Goodwin said he did not realize this until after DMV made its legislative request in February 2023, but he was less than clear why legislators were not made aware of this. He said the original request was an attempt to reduce wait times at DMV offices. Goodwin did not directly address the portion of the provision that would allow unlimited online renewal of driver’s licenses, merely stating that a new photo is required every sixteen years.

Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) listens to testimony during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, October 11, 2023. (Photo by David Cobb)

Rep. Jeff McNeely (R-Iredell) pressed the timeline of awareness and communication.

McNeely, chair of the Transportation Committee, said he did not receive any communication asking that the provision be removed. Members of the committee asked for email communications to track the chain of requests.

“Lack of communication to the chairs is the problem,” McNeely said. “More eyes could have realized what was happening and made sure we corrected this. In the future we need to broaden our net as we cast it.”

Driver’s License Issuance Contract

Goodwin testified that appropriate procedures were followed in selecting CBN Secure Technologies as a new vendor to produce North Carolina’s driver’s licenses.

Only a small number of companies produce credentials that meet federal, state, and American Associate of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) requirements. He explained that DMV chose to interview three of five companies that met its initial criteria. After site visits and presentations in Raleigh, DMV officials chose CBN based on their secure technologies.

Goodwin defended the process DMV used to select the company. Citing Session Law 2021-134 (HB650) that allows DMV to exempt five information technology projects from DIT oversight and requirements to increase the speed of technology modernization projects.

North Carolina General Statute 20-7(n)(4) requires that a driver’s license must contain a color photograph. Goodwin testified that CBN can print in color, but the company prefers black-and-white based on industry standards and security best practices. He said passports and “half” of U.S. state driver’s licenses are black-and-white.  Goodwin said DMV’s request to add the words “or monochromatic” was rebuffed by “DOT leadership.”

Rep. Allen Chesser (R-Nash) raised concerns about data security given the CBN Secure Technologies is a global company. He further urged caution and a full, unrushed vetting process because of the importance of security.

Goodwin reiterated that the process used for selecting CBN Secure Technologies was in accordance with state law and included representatives from multiple departments. “No one person made the decision,” he said. “The decision relied upon the 2021 law…[was] discussed at the meetings earlier this year, is also based on recommendations of subject matter experts, it tracked DOT procurement and RFP process, and followed the direction, approval, and blessing of then-Secretary Boyette and our legal team.”

More to Come

Committee members were not satisfied with Goodwin and Manley’s responses on either issue. They requested more documentation of the procurement process and of communications related to the legislative provision. Chairman Harry Warren said the Committee also hopes to have the Commissioner back to discuss customer service at driver’s license offices.

House Oversight Committee Investigates DMV Contract and Renewal Extension; Commissioner, Deputy to Testify

Raleigh, NC – The House Oversight and Reform Committee has issued a letter to the Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and Deputy Commissioner Portia Manley requesting their appearance before the committee Wednesday, October 11, at 9:00 a.m. in the Legislative Building Auditorium.

The committee is investigating the process that DMV used to award a contract for printing driver’s license to Canadian company CBN Secure Technologies. DMV exempted the project from IT procurement oversight and did not use a competitive bidding process. Members will probe the process, timing, and rationale behind DMV’s decision. They will also pursue allegations that the vendor’s technology may not be able to produce driver’s licenses that comply with state law.

Additionally, the committee will seek to understand the reversal in Commissioner Goodwin’s support for extending the 8-year driver’s license renewal period to 16 years. Goodwin made the legislative budget request for DMV in February. Since the budget passed, however, the commissioner has spoken out against the provision, saying the extension violates federal REAL ID requirements. Members attempt to determine when DMV learned that the longer renewal period would not meet federal requirements, why it was not until after making the request, and why the agency did not make legislators aware sooner.

“One purpose of oversight is to examine if department officials are complying with the law,” said committee co-chair Rep. Jake Johnson. “We have to wonder whether this contract is even valid if the company cannot produce a legal state driver’s license. The speed and lack of oversight in awarding this contract also raise concerns related to the security of North Carolinians’ personally identifiable information.”

“The commissioner has provided little to back up his statements that 16-year license renewals do not comply with federal REAL ID requirements,” co-chair Rep. Harry Warren said. “To the extent that he is correct, it is not clear why it took until after he made the legislative request to learn this. We want to clear up the confusion.”