My advice to Jerry Brown: Fix the DMV

Fix the DMV.

That’s my advice to Gov.-elect Jerry Brown.

Why start with the Department of Motor Vehicles, when there is so much wrong in state government, so many problems, up to and including another massive budget deficit?

Because nothing could do more to instill confidence in government among Californians, starting with teenagers who are still too young to vote.

Nearly everyone in the state age 16 or older has had to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles at one time or another. And nearly every one of them comes away from the experience shaking their head, or in a rage. And then they start to think that all of state government must be as inefficient and bureaucratic as the one office they know the best.

Yes, I know, the DMV has improved over the years. They let you do some of your business online now, and you can make an appointment ahead of time for some services if you have to go in person.

But let’s face it, the place still brings up for most of us the image of what we imagine life must have been like in Communist Russia, where the citizens were at the mercy of the state, and the state was a cold-hearted SOB.

Imagine if Jerry Brown were to announce that in his first year in office he was going to transform the Department of Motor Vehicles into the friendliest, most efficient, most customer-driven government office anywhere. And then imagine if he were to deliver.

He might start by making the hours fit the needs of the customers, instead of the state. Keep the offices open into the evening and on weekends, without closing them during the week to compensate. And if you’re open until 5 p.m., stay open until then for every customer who gets through the door instead of telling some of them that they really needed to be there 20 minutes earlier to get the service they wanted that day.

He could have enough personnel on hand so that the lines don’t stretch out the door and around the building. It’s not a fricking bakery, after all.

And he could reward those employees who offer helpful service with a smile, and get rid of the lifers who act as if you’ve placed a two-ton weight on their shoulders when you arrive at the counter with a question. Maybe even place some sort of computerized feedback system right on the counter so each customer could rate the level of service they receive on the spot, and the best employees could be rewarded for scoring high.

These and other changes might make a visit to the DMV at least palatable, instead of something that’s worse than a trip to the dentist.

And the best part? Brown could do this for very little money in an era when there is none to spare. Yes, it might cost a bit to extend the office hours and give great employees incentive bonuses. But the investment would be worth it if it transformed the image that Californians have of the department, and by extension, the rest of state government.

If Brown dragged the DMV into the 21st Century of customer service, a rather simple undertaking when you think about it, he could credibly ask Californians to support his efforts to reform the schools or protect the environment. Some of them might even be willing to cough up higher taxes if they believed the money wouldn’t be wasted.

And once Brown overhauled the Department of Motor Vehicles, he could move on to other parts of state government. He could blow up the boxes that Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to explode but never did. The Terminator couldn’t get past the public employee unions. But Brown, a lifelong Democrat in good standing, could.

He could fix the DMV. Then keep going.

Note: Here is a response to my article from the DMV:

November 12, 2010

The DMV isn’t broken, it just needs a tune-up.

In several ways, Mr. Weintraub’s suggestions reaffirm the strategic direction that we’ve set for
DMV. We are focused on becoming a leader in public service. Two of our strategic goals — “Service” and “Workforce” – speak to the emphasis that we place on providing quality customer
service and continually enhancing the skills and professionalism of our workforce.

Despite the State’s recent budget crisis, furloughs, and the current hiring freeze – all of which
have had an impact on delivery of services – California DMV has become a model of state

California DMV is considered a thought-leader on the national stage when it comes to advanced
business practices and offering online and alternative service options to our customers. More
than 20 service options are available online, including everything from renewing a driver license
and vehicle registration to filing a notice of release of liability and changes of address. In fact,
more than 7 million Californians will have renewed their vehicle registration online during 2010,
a new record that represents a 15 percent increase from the previous year.

We view California’s 38 million residents as either current or future customers, who today live in
a mobile, global and knowledge-based environment. That’s why in 2007, California DMV
became the first state DMV in the nation to launch its own YouTube Channel, which provides a
myriad of educational video vignettes on a wide range of customer-oriented topics. In 2009 and
2010, DMV was among the first vehicle licensing departments in the country to use Facebook
and Twitter to interact one-on-one with customers.

DMV also encourages our customers to consider some ways that they can enhance their DMV
service experience:

• Use an alternate service channel. DMV serves 30 million customers annually in a field
office. Over 20 percent of those customers could have chosen to use the internet, phone,
mail, or one of our business partners (such as the California State Automobile Association,
among others) to complete their transactions. We encourage our customers to take advantage
of our flexible, convenient service options – and only come to a field office when an in person
visit is absolutely required.

• Come prepared. At DMV, we strive for a “once and done” experience. If customers come
prepared with all required documents, we’ll do our best to complete their business in one
visit. Our website is a great resource for learning more about common DMV transactions.

• Advance appointments. If a trip to a field office is necessary, give DMV the same priority
as a visit to the doctor or dentist, and make an advance appointment.

We acknowledge that adding more resources could result in an improved field office experience.
In previous years, when budgets allowed, we dramatically reduced wait times. In 2007, for
example, we served over 81 percent of our customers in under 30 minutes.

Moving forward, the DMV continues to establish itself as a leader in state government.

George Valverde,
director, California Department of Motor Vehicles

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