Scott Friedman, NBC 5 Investigates
The state computer system used to issue Texas driver licenses has defects that delay transactions, adding to long waits at DPS offices.
An NBC 5 investigation has discovered another problem that adds to the three- and four-hour waits some Texans experience at Department of Public Safety driver license offices -- a flawed computer system that makes it harder for customer service representatives to process some transactions quickly.
The NBC 5 Investigates team obtained a three-page letter by DPS Director Steve McCraw to state Sen. Tommy Williams that contains a list of computer issues. According to the letter, the system has "multiple defects that slow processing time."
"That computer system was a typical government IT system," McCraw told NBC 5 Investigates in an interview. "We overpaid -- overpaid for the project and [it] under delivered."
The Driver License System is only 3 years old and was delivered before McGraw arrived at DPS.
He is asking the Legislature for millions of dollars to help fix it. His letter to Williams includes a DPS budget document that shows the agency plans to ask for more than $7.2 million to correct the problems and improve the system.
Barbara Aars ran into delays at the counter at the DPS office in Cedar Hill because of the computer system.
She endured a two-and-a-half-hour wait before she finally reached the counter. She hoped the transaction would at least go quickly but ended up having to do it twice.
Aars gave the customer service representative all of her information and took the vision test. But before getting her license, they had to start over again because the service representative made an error while entering Aars' information.
"So I said, 'You mean from the very beginning?'" Aars said. "She said, 'Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry -- from the very beginning.'"
The service representative told her that the computer system gives no way to back up and fix errors.
Many such programs have an arrow that can be clicked to return the user to the previous screen. But the Driver License System does not. If service representatives make a mistake, their only option is to cancel the entire transaction and start from scratch.
"I was speechless," Aars said. "I was absolutely shocked because I thought, 'I've never heard of a computer that operates like this.'"
An attachment to McCraw's letter to Williams details the problem as well as other issues.
"System constraints prevent a customer service representative from returning to previous screens in DLS to correct errors," the attachment said.
Customer service representatives have to either start all over or process a "correction" transaction, delaying the process and keeping the customer in the office longer, the attachment said.
The attachment also states that the system "requires Social Security numbers to be entered three times," which "greatly increases the chance of incorrect information being entered."
"We shouldn't have any down time," McCraw said. "If you put your Social Security number in once, that examiner should not have to do it again."
State Rep. Lon Burnam, who's on the House committee that oversees DPS, said he was unaware that the computer that forces agents to start over if they make a mistake.
"I didn't know that," he told NBC 5 Investigates. "That's terrible. That's just awful."
The lead contractor that built the system, BearingPoint, declared bankruptcy around the time DPS got the system.
Taxpayers will now have to foot the bill to make the changes DPS wants. Burnam said he believes the money must be spent because the lines must be shortened.
Burnam said he believes the state has to spend the money because the lines must be shortened.
"Do I wish they made the right decisions in the first place? Yes," he said. "Did they make the right decisions? No."
Aars said she only wonders why it's taken so long to get it right.
"They should have fixed it long before three years," she said. "Three years is not a new computer."