Promoted Former Commissioners Avoid Blame for DMV Debacle
Andres Ayala Jr. resigned as head of the troubled Connecticut DMV in the wake of a disastrous role out of a new computer system. The computer software, meant to streamline DMV services, resulted in massive wait times, erroneously suspended registrations and a number of angry complaints beginning in August 2015.
While Ayala appeared to shoulder the blame, his tenure and the continued problems came at the end of a process that began in 2009.
The errors in the software turnover have continued into 2016, with many vehicles missing from town tax rolls. West Hartford Assessor Joseph Dakers told the Hartford Courant that the missing property amounted to $7.6 million just for his town and it would take a long time for towns to sort through the missing data.
The DMV intended the Connecticut Integrated Vehicle and Licensing System Modernization Project, called CIVLS, to update its computer system. The goal was to allow more online integration so that drivers could register their vehicles, pay fines or fees and order license plates through a website rather than standing in line.
DMV awarded the contract to oversee the update to Science Applications International Corporation. SAIC then sub-contracted with the 3M corporation to use its software. SAIC and DMV purchased 3M’s software in March of 2010 under then DMV Commissioner Robert Ward. Over the next four years, the new commissioner, Melody Currey, oversaw the installation.
“It’s always referred to as the 3M contract, but really SAIC was the contractor,” said Currey, now Department of Administrative Services commissioner.
Currey previously served as mayor of East Hartford and a state representative. Ward was house minority leader, representing North Branford, before serving as DMV commissioner from 2007 until 2011.
The contract with SAIC, with a value of up to $30 million, included just under $22 million for the 3M software, $4.9 million for “additional deliverables,” and up to $3.5 million for optional maintenance over eight years.
Installation of the new system was scheduled to take place over four phases, beginning with “Release 1” or R1. R1 dealt with back office financials and infrastructure, and took place out of the public eye. Currey described the launch of R1 as “very successful” and “a positive story.”
Following R1 in 2011, SAIC transferred leadership of the project to 3M to implement the R2 phase of licensing and registration. According to Ward, there were concerns within the DMV that SAIC was not devoting enough resources to the project and state officials pressured SAIC to turn over management of the project to 3M.
SAIC still maintained responsibility for the project, according a September 2011 memo from the company. “SAIC, however, acknowledges that it will remain primarily responsible for the completion of the terms and conditions of the Agreement. Any enforcement of the terms and conditions of the Agreement will be made in accordance with the terms of the agreement with SAIC which remains fully responsible for the performance of its subcontractors and the completion of the project.”
The problems began for Connecticut drivers during the R2 phase of the software upgrade. Similar to the issues facing towns now, records for hundreds of divers that should have been transferred were lost in the old system. The DMV had to assign a special team to retrieve the information. Glitches in the system itself extended wait times from half an hour before the upgrade to three hours following the rollout. Several months after the upgrade, drivers were still reporting that the DMV had erroneously suspended registrations, which led to tickets for the “violation.”
Problems with the 3M software emerged across the country even as Connecticut implemented it. The 3M system was modified to suit Connecticut’s needs but had previously been used in other states such as Montana and Kansas – and with similar difficulties. Kansas, in particular, cut ties with 3M over the software’s problems in 2012.
Currey said she was aware of these difficulties. Officials visited the sites in Montana and Kansas while the software was in development and were aware of the issues those counties faced.
“In Kansas we knew that it worked, although difficult in their start,” Currey said. “They had a bigger struggle. You are always questioning did we go the right route. You get to the point where, this is where we’re headed. Can you turn back now or do you slug through this?”
“We decided to move forward,” Currey said.
In 2014, Currey told NBC Connecticut that she didn’t believe Connecticut would face similar problems because of the structure of its DMV.
When a 2012 audit of the DMV found that the upgrade was facing serious problems with implementation, one of the names signed at the bottom of the report was former DMV Commissioner Ward’s. When he left DMV, Ward became one of Connecticut’s two auditors of public accounts.
The audit notes that 3M had changed project managers twelve times since work had begun. It also raised concerns about improper management. “It appears that inadequate planning of the project not only increased the cost, but also resulted in delaying the completion of the project. Many existing issues with the current antiquated system that should be resolved with CIVLS may remain unsolved for years.”
The audit recommended improvements. “The Department of Motor Vehicles should consider proper planning by using professional project management services for major projects such as CIVLS, so there is adequate planning in order to avoid additional costs and issues in carrying out the project.” DMV did not follow this recommendation.
Currey said many states have tried similar upgrades to DMV software with worse results. “It’s a very hard change in the system. You knew there were going to be glitches and struggles as it is with any change in technology.” She said that California, in particular, spent $208 million before giving up on a DMV upgrade project altogether. California was using the contractor HP Enterprise Services, another company with a sour history updating DMV records, particularly in Vermont where the contractor and state parted ways after an effort costing $18 million.
When contacted for comment, 3M declined to discuss the split with SAIC or the frequent change-over in management. However, emails obtained by the Courant show that tempers flared on both 3M’s and the DMV’s side. Each accused the other of not providing enough information and support. “Our implementation team continues to work diligently with the CT DMV on the software upgrade and to see that our contract obligations are fulfilled,” said 3M spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie.
Currently, drivers can do a number of things online through the new software, including getting new license plates, registering their vehicle, checking their emissions-testing status and paying fees or penalties. Currey said she had recently, easily and successfully registered her vehicle through the DMV website.
The unveiling of the new software came less than one year into Ayala’s tenure. Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated Ayala in December of 2014 and he resigned in January of 2016. Governor Malloy had faced pressure from the Latino community to appoint a Latino commissioner. Ayala was seen as the perfect person to usher in its “drive only licenses” for undocumented workers.
“To have that coincide, roughly speaking, with the appointment of a Latino commissioner fluent in Spanish, I think, sends an important message to a large segment of our population, both documented and undocumented, that Connecticut is a state in which we will treat all of our residents fairly,” Malloy remarked in his announcement of Ayala’s appointment.
Some supporters say Ayala may have been the “fall guy” for a faulty system put into place years before his role at the DMV – while his predecessors moved on to new, more powerful positions.
“My four years at DMV brought about many changes that created a more effective department for people and businesses. I have those same goals for DAS,” Currey said at the time of her nomination to run DAS, Connecticut’s main contracting agency. Currey said she believes Connecticut weathered the storm much better than other states and now the new system is up and working properly.
While proposing to cuts to most of state government spending, the Malloy administration recommended increasing the DMV budget by 27 percent next year. Overtime at the agency is on track to double this year.
DMV spokesman William Seymour says that the department will continue to work with 3M in order to correct the issues at the town level.