ST. PAUL, Minn. — After signing off on $10 million in emergency funding for Minnesota’s troubled driver and vehicle licensing system last month, lawmakers on Wednesday mulled additional changes for the state’s information technology department.
The Senate’s transportation committee, considering funding for Minnesota IT Services, heard testimony supporting plans to add more than two dozen temporary employees to respond to rising complaints about the licensing system.
The $93 million system known as MNLARS has been plagued by problems since it went online last summer, and state officials have asked for $43 million to fix those problems, including lengthy backlogs that have frustrated drivers.
Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman said employees have struggled to keep pace with calls and emails from people who need help with the system. Her department said some 500,000 callers were lost to busy signals and hangups between February and March.
“The current staffing level is not sufficient to handle the volume of calls coming into the department, which leads to Minnesotans not receiving the assistance that they need and that they deserve,” Dohman said.
The state’s Driver and Vehicle Services office said this week they plan to spend $1.3 million to add more employees.
Some Republicans were skeptical, saying new funding should go toward fixing MNLARS, not bolstering call centers.
Meanwhile, House members advanced a measure that would shift the department away from building and designing information technology projects, requiring it instead to contract the work to private firms.
Rep. Jim Nash, a Republican from Waconia, said MNLARS and other troubled state software rollouts support his idea.
“Had it not been for … the abject failure of some large enterprise software projects, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said.
MNIT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne said the proposal would handcuff her department’s ability to perform small updates or projects, resulting in higher costs.
She told lawmakers she doubts private companies would share the same level of accountability as her department.
Another measure approved by the State Government Finance Committee requires MN.IT to consult with local governments when it evaluates statewide projects.
Both House measure were advanced as part of a larger information technology bill.