MN senator: Heads need to roll over license system snafus

Sen. Scott Newman talked to reporters after a transportation committee hearing on the MNLARS licensing system. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The Minnesota Senate’s transportation committee chair says he’s lost confidence in the people running the state’s troubled vehicle licensing and registration system, and he wants them replaced.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, called for drastic changes Thursday at the end of a public hearing that provided no firm answer about when the system will be fixed.

“I am frustrated in the extreme with what has transpired,” Newman said.

Newman raised concerns about the project cost, which has already topped $93 million over 10 years. He also said he has lost faith in the ability of the two agencies in charge of the system, Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety, to finish the job.

“I for one am going to be extremely reluctant to provide further funding, until the people who have been working on this thing over the years are no longer employed by the state of Minnesota,” he said.

Newman and other senators asked state officials repeatedly when the system’s remaining problems will be fixed. They did not get an answer, but were told that a “road map” for the fix will be ready by the end of the month.

Dana Bailey, executive director of projects and initiatives at Minnesota IT Services, said after the hearing that lawmakers will have an answer soon. Bailey said Newman’s call for resignations would not be helpful.

“Mass exodus of any fingerprints that have ever been on the project would be incredibly unfortunate,” Bailey said. “You need that institutional knowledge about what was happening with the system and how it was built and what was happening in order to fix it.”

The agency began making some staffing changes related to the system in November.

Problems with the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) began with its launch last summer. Auto dealers, deputy registrars and others told members of the Senate transportation committee that many of those problems persist.

Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said his members are still dealing with lengthy delays for title transfers and other paperwork.

“This is a core function of government that is simply not working, and it’s not getting better, and it’s not getting better fast enough. I think it’s safe to say our members have settled into a new reality of regular dysfunction when it comes to MNLARS.”

The local offices that issue license tabs have also complained regularly about the system. But Jeff Orth, a deputy registrar from Rochester, said he has been seeing improvement.

“I think we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve got, I think, systems in place to bring about the needed change.”

Sen. Melisa Franzen said she also believes progress has been made. Franzen, DFL-Edina, told state agency officials during the hearing that she wants to work with them to fix the system.

“We will be critical with every single dollar you ask of us next session, for sure,” Franzen said. “But I want to be a partner to make sure that this is resolved, because complaining about it and pointing fingers is not going to really fix it.”

  • Vintage59

    Institutional knowledge is what leads to being unable to fix things. It completely replaces common sense and the ability to think for yourself.

    • Michael Driscoll

      Nonsense. Where do get these strange thoughts?

    • James Eckard

      I would agree. It’s the ones in charge who will do everything in their powers to keep things the same so as to not admit they messed up. They will fight every change & dispute it being the problem. It’s the same story with MNSure, while yes parts of it have improved, there are still massive issues that have never been fixed & new ones being created with every update. I blame a lot of it on IBM,who I believe is the chief company behind both projects.

  • Fred

    Gov. Dayton showed just how tone deaf he is when he dismissed complaints about MNLARS just a few short months ago. There is a string of failed programs that he is responsible for, from MnSure and it’s $250 million failed IT rollout, to the stadium that would be funded by gambling expansion and not paid for out of the general fund, and so on.

    • Badboy35

      You can change government parties and the result is the same – failed software projects.

      • Fred

        That’s generally true about software except in the case of MnSure. We could have opted for the federal program, in which case the software was already developed. $250 million down the drain for the MnSure software. Plus the Vikings stadium that I mentioned wasn’t a software project of course. $500 million, much in general funding, right into the pocket of a New Jersey billionaire real estate tycoon.

  • johnepeacock

    Governmental-sized software projects are tough. Too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many problems to solve. Bureaucrats that fight against change. People wanting to “make their mark” without experience in software.

    • xX_JMO_Xx

      That is absolutely one of the problems. The other is that these projects are often under funded. But here is on thing that people need to remember, more than half of all Information Technology project fail. Failure of an IT project is not limited to government. They happen in the private sector as well.

      One of the seven reasons is trying to make the project inexpensive. Well this is especially true in government agencies, especially when Republicans cut funding and crow about “Do more with less.”

      I have seen what happens when organizations try to do an Information Technology project on the cheap. Example, I have seen an organization spend about $200k on a failed website project, because the developer they went with promised to do it on the cheap. And Cheap it was. The outside developer was contracted to produce a website for like $60K, and after about year into the project, the organization hired a Webmaster to come in and fix the problems. When the webmaster came in, it took a couple of months to become acquainted with committee heading up the project, and what had transpired.

      What he discovered is that their so called outside developer didn’t produce any planning documents, such as wire-frames that describe what the website was supposed to do. On top of that, the developer didn’t author the site to work with the CMS (Content Management System), and it would have broke the website anytime the CMS would be updated. On top of that, the department that was heading the project, was a complete moron who wanted to ignore modern rules of website design.

      After a year and half of trying to get the website fixed, the committee found a way to get rid of the webmaster, and terminated the project. Of course now they are looking to spend more money on a different company, selling a word-press site, which for this organization is ill advised, but what the hell right. Once again using the wrong tool. A tool that is riddled with vulnerabilities to be used as a website that could potentially be collecting private data. That thing is going to be a security nightmare.

      This is the problem, that stakeholders don’t really know what they hell it is they want, they make changes to the scope mid project, and since they don’t know anything, the hire the cheapest company to produce something that is completely wrong, but then blame the guy they hired to fix it.

      I have seen stakeholders try to make changes in the middle of some projects I have worked on, and I always pushed back, and said no. I was working on a email system migration, and I had stakeholders, even co-workers wanting to add things in, and wanted to put the project on hold to explore additional features, like a couple weeks before launch. I had to push back and say that those things can be explored after the project is done. To introduce more to the scope is only going to cause time over-runs and cause un-needed complexity when we were so close to the finish line. Especially when the desired change is just trimming and doesn’t add anything useful to the business need of the program. Land the project, let the dust settle, then explore adding a trimming.

      • Badboy35

        Software development is not the core competency in govt. unfortunately, it’s not much better with contract developers either.

  • Badboy35

    Such an idiot, knows nothing about software development. But make a spectacle of yourself since this is politics.