Virginia DMV Stuck in Neutral

Computer glitch shuts down licensing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK

    Aunt Patty of “The Simpsons,” a veteran of the Springfield DMV, once said, “Some days we don’t let the line move at all. We call those ‘weekdays.’”

    Well, the mystery is solved. Springfield is in Virginia.

    Apparently, it is possible for the Department of Motor Vehicles to move even more slowly than usual. In Virginia, a computer failure has shut down the entire state’s ability to issue new or replacement driver’s licenses. The glitch has now kept things at a halt for nearly a week, and about 5,000 driver’s licenses have expired during that time.

    So no one is smiling, which is against the rules anyway, and Gov. Bob McDonnell wants answers. The Washington Post reports McDonnell is seeking “an independent investigation into the computer blackout, and state officials say the company’s financial penalties are likely to exceed $100,000.”

    McDonnell said, “I am not pleased that our employees and citizens have experienced this disruption in service. I have directed an operational and performance review of the situation be conducted so that we can determine the proper course of action to best protect the interests of the commonwealth. It is crucial we learn what happened and why in order to ensure that such occurrences are prevented in the future.”

    Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias, under the less-than-controversial header “Better DMVs Needed,” argues that problems at the DMV can lead to the sort of anti-government attitudes that brought folks to town to see Glenn Beck last weekend.

    Yglesias writes, “Most middle class people have relatively few direct interactions with the government, and consequently I think it’s more important than people generally realize to try to improve the quality of those interactions.”

    Yglesias cites the case of one man who, while standing in a long long line at his local DMV, found himself in the captive audience of a protester “who got a receptive audience as he railed at the government.”

    But what to do about it? D.C. has gotten rid of its frustrating biennial safety inspections, but licensure of drivers and registration of vehicles is still a necessity.

    Libertarian blogger Jacob Grier, responding to Yglesias, says DMVs should be privatized. He says “licenses to operate a DMV center could be sold to private businesses, which would then have an incentive to operate in ways that are pleasant for consumers.” In addition to “better hours, better locations,” and “better atmosphere,” Grier sees room for synergy. Why not put a license renewal kiosk “in a Starbucks or a Wal-Mart”?

    It makes sense. Grier cites a 2005 comment to Radley Balko, another libertarian blogger, from a reader in New Mexico, where there are both government and privately run versions of the state’s DMV equivalent.

    If you are willing to pay “a little more,” the reader wrote, you could go to a private facility that “will do for you everything the government division is supposed to. It is FAST, FRIENDLY, EFFICIENT, and not only have they put their shops in highly convenient places (in strip malls at big intersections) but the market is competitive with multiple firms.”


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