If you’re in California, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) wait times have moved from the butt of bad jokes to a pressing policy issue. Californians were waiting up to six weeks to get an appointment at some DMV offices and efforts to decrease wait times weren’t exactly accurate.
Bad press, legislative audits, and a special team appointed by California Governor Gavin Newsom are attacking what the New York Times has called an embarrassment to Democrats who control the state government.
Governor Newsom established the DMV Strike Team in January 2019 to lead a comprehensive modernization and reinvention of the DMV. Last week, the strike team released an initial report and Governor Newsom named a new director and various deputy directors at the DMV.
Ironically enough, the DMV system crashed the day the report was released.
The strike force report, while impressive in its organizational analysis of the myriad of issues at the DMV, is a bureaucratic answer to a free-market problem. The report recommended obvious fixes for the DMV: self-service kiosks for registration and renewals, accepting credit cards, and hosting pop-up services outside of the DMV are among the many simple yet important changes the DMV should make. However, a strike team only sets the initial groundwork for changes to be made. Don’t expect to zip through the DMV like a fast food drive thru anytime soon.
Then there is the DMV’s new operating budget. The DMV is getting even more money from the state this year, with several million dollars devoted to fixing ongoing issues. California’s 2019-2020 Budget earmarked more than $1.3 billion for the DMV. That’s a 17 percent budget increase, adding more than $242 million from last year to help with the list of growing problems including the Real ID debacle. The strike team has called for budget alignment and a new staffing plan at DMV offices.
The DMV incorrectly issued three million Real IDs and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to Governor Newsom in April saying the DMV did not meet standards in the application process. Now they’ve had to go back and contact those who thought they were getting a Real ID-compliant license to take additional steps to ensure they have a Real ID-compliant license. Oops.
The frustration and utter insanity that is the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is one of the few things that all Californians can agree upon. It’s also one of the few interactions most Californians will have with a government agency. People get the full workings of a gigantic bureaucratic system at the DMV, taking part in an immersive experience that is the butt of almost every joke relating to big government.
The current state of affairs at the DMV is best summed up by the strike team report’s conclusion, “Even with all of the Strike Team’s efforts, the department will still likely struggle to meet the expected demand.”
Evan Harris is the Pacific Research Institute’s Media Relations and Outreach Manager.