Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that Minnesota will scrap its troubled car registration system and seek a private software alternative, acknowledging the extent of a massive government failure that has cost the state well over $100 million.
The current system will remain in place with routine maintenance while state government selects a software vendor to implement a new technology.
Walz inherited the troubled license and registration system known as MNLARS from his predecessor, former Gov. Mark Dayton. Walz is seeking another $20 million above his original budget request of $53 million for upgrades and fixes to the current software. The extra money will begin the transition from the in-house software — which was rolled out to scathing reviews in 2017 after nearly a decade in development — to a private software package like that used in a dozen other states.
The systems’ early history included Minnesotans being charged too much or too little for their plates and tabs, repeated systemwide shutdowns and monthslong processing delays. Cities, counties, people who run the license centers as private enterprises, as well as auto dealers and car-insurance carriers all have been burdened by the glitches.
“I’m committed to fixing” MNLARS, Walz said. “That’s why I reached across the aisle to bring people together to find a solution.”
Republicans were in rare agreement with Walz and pledged to find the extra money needed.
“The governor really led on this issue. He was willing to take a new and fresh look at it. This is bold. It bodes well for Minnesota,” said state Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, the GOP majority leader.
Walz sought recommendations from an independent review led by Rick King, the chief operating officer for technology at Thomson Reuters in Eagan.
King called the MNLARS release in 2017 a “premature and failed rollout” that was cursed with a key design flaw — once problems emerged, there was no way to return to the previous system while the new software was fixed.
His independent review included dozens of interviews, and visits to watch the new software in action. He said the group determined that the risks of future failure were significant, particularly given the need to continually hire contractors who had no knowledge of the system and would have to be newly trained.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons,” King said, referring to state government’s technology processes. “Sometimes lessons come with some cost.”
Walz said the independent review will be a blueprint for state technology upgrades in the future.
“It’s that 12:01 a.m. in September 2017 that I’m really focused on,” he said, referring to the system’s failed rollout. Walz said he wanted to institute a culture in state government that allows workers to call attention to problems before they metastasize.
He cited a procedure he learned during 24 years in the National Guard that he said should have been used in the weeks leading up to the flawed rollout of MNLARS.
“Anyone can call a ‘check fire.’ If there was a situation that was viewed as unsafe, everything stopped,” he said.