Capitol Alert

Kiosks, chatbots and a revamped website: Gavin Newsom’s strike team outlines a path to fix DMV

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles will need to make lots of changes if it wants to turn things around, according to a 110-page report sent to lawmakers and obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

Among the suggestions are launching an aggressive $10 million marketing campaign, redesigning the agency’s website and creating a chatbot to filter and respond to customer complaints. Some of the changes are already under way.

The report, produced by the DMV in response to recommendations by a strike team created by Gov. Gavin Newsom, also highlights problems with upper-level management. It calls the department’s organizational structure “outdated” and says DMV employees need better training.

The team led by Marybel Batjer, secretary of the Government Operations Agency, conducted “an intensive series of interviews with DMV executives and managers” and discovered the department had issues with “weak communication and lack of goal alignment among divisions, key vacancies in top management roles, and poor coordination in efforts to improve customer service.”

To make matters worse, the report noted, “Employees have been hampered by outdated and inadequate training and obsolete tools.”

The team recommended a number of customer service improvements to keep Californians out of DMV offices and help the department tackle larger problems with outdated technology and a new ID program.

The report, dated April 23, says the DMV will add 200 more self-service kiosks by the end of the year and allow the machines to process additional types of transactions. It will also revamp its website to help customers find the services they’re looking for.

Customers who choose to visit the offices in person could soon have access to Wi-Fi, according to the report. It also notes DMV offices will accept credit cards by the end of the year, following Newsom’s demand for them to do so.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge for the DMV is the roughly 20 million customers who have yet to come in for a federally mandated Real ID card, which is required by Oct. 1, 2020, for people who want to board airplanes without having to bring a passport.

The DMV is asking for nearly $10 million so it can raise awareness about documents needed for a Real ID card and alternatives to visiting a field office when renewing a driver license.

“The numerous improvements that DMV is making to customer service could fall flat without a sufficiently funded marketing strategy,” the strike team warned in the report.

Newsom’s office declined to comment on the findings, saying it is still waiting for the strike team to wrap up its work in June.

In the meantime, Newsom wants to give the DMV more money.

His revised budget proposal calls for an extra $163 million for the DMV to address a barrage of ongoing issues, including issuing millions of additional Real ID cards ahead of a looming deadline. That’s just shy of the department’s hefty $168 million request to lawmakers in March.

Lawmakers, however, have expressed little appetite for giving the DMV more money.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said he’s been disappointed in the past after approving money for new tablets that were later purchased but not deployed. Ting said he’s spoken with Newsom’s office about the $163 million budget proposal but wants to make sure there is greater accountability to prevent the DMV from misspending the money.

“They haven’t proven they have the ability to spend wisely,” Ting said of the DMV. “We want to see a plan from the administration. We need to have a number of checks and balances so we can be assured they’re spending it properly.”

Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno agrees with Ting but also wants the DMV to hand off more of its work to such groups as the American Automobile Association. He said he’ll wait for the strike team to conclude its six-month review before he considers giving the DMV another dime.

“The previous governor saw the Legislature as a nuisance,” Patterson said. “I’m willing to give the governor a little more time. But I’m not ready to say, ‘I’m going to give you a lot more money.’”

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