In a budget hearing on Tuesday, the Department of Motor Vehicles expressed opposition to a possible audit, calling the proposal a “strain” on resources that would detract focus away from reducing wait times.
“An audit would require us to redirect the resources we currently have dedicated to reducing the wait times,” said Jean Shiomoto, the DMV’s director. “Any audit, you have to pull a lot of documents. Different people working on different projects would be redirected to responding to an audit. ... It would strain our resources.”
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, is presenting an audit request at 9 a.m. Wednesday to demand accountability for what he views as a deeply mismanaged agency. Patterson immediately interjected during the hearing following Shiomoto’s remarks.
“So you’re basically talking about your executives going to have a little more work to do. Is that what you’re saying?” he asked.
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Spiking wait times at DMV offices over the last year are drawing scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom say upper management has misled the public about wait times. They say the DMV prepared poorly for increased customer traffic expected with the advent of the Real ID card, which requires an in-person visit.
By the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Patterson said he does not have confidence in Shiomoto’s ability to turn the department around.
Patterson said he is one or two votes shy of the support he needs for the 14-member Joint Legislative Audit Committee to approve his audit request. But he is hopeful the hearing will sway a couple of Democrats as at least one whistleblower comes forward to testify.
During the budget hearing, Shiomoto requested the committee provide $26 million in additional funds for the DMV to hire 400 additional employees.
“We would like to have the ability to have $26 million available as we continue to ramp up and see increasing customers coming,” Shiomoto said.
Her request was met with initial skepticism, as lawmakers from both parties said they’d like to see a formal proposal before reaching any decisions.
Shiomoto also said the DMV expects wait times to start dropping by mid-September and return to a more reasonable level by the end of the year.
She set goals of 15-minute wait times for people with appointments and 45-minute delays for those without appointments. Questions remain as to how feasible those targets will be.
“You’ve got to put an ambitious goal out there to reach it,” Shiomoto said. “That is what we are definitely working to achieve.”
Cullen Grant, a whistleblower set to testify during Wednesday’s audit hearing, said more employees won’t solve the underlying problem contributing to increased wait times. Grant has worked at the DMV for 13 years, including the past seven as an office manager in Los Angeles. He said outdated technology is to blame, citing a decades-old management system.
“They’re doing all this mass hiring, but it’s not fixing the problem,” Grant said.
Eight members will need to support an audit request in order for it to be referred to the state auditor, which will be a challenge considering only five Republicans are on the committee. Since Wednesday’s hearing takes place in a joint committee, additional rules hurt Patterson’s chances. It needs support from four Assembly members and four senators. Because there is one vacancy in the Senate, four of the six members will have to support it.
“I want to give all of the members the opportunity to hear our presentation,“ Patterson said. “We have got dramatic testimony that I think is going to shake confidence of the foundation (of the DMV).”