Minnesota businesses that handle vehicle registration, titles and licensing told lawmakers Wednesday that despite a recent system update, they are still struggling with the state’s computer system for managing those transactions.
The state’s information technology organization on Sunday rolled out its biggest release of system fixes and enhancements since it debuted the problematic Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) one year ago. State officials told lawmakers they are working with system users to prioritize remaining fixes but can only do so much after they received less than one-quarter of the $43 million they requested from the Legislature this year.
“Spending more money to fix gaps and defects is not where I would want to be, as a taxpayer,” given the decade it took to build the system, Prior Lake Deputy Registrar Deana Schweitzer said at a Wednesday meeting of the MNLARS Steering Committee.
Deputy registrars like Schweitzer run offices across the state that handle licensing and vehicle-related services, and they said stress and costs have mounted since the new system launched last July.
Minnesota Information Technology Services (MNIT) leaders said one of the notable updates made over the weekend gives state liaisons who work with deputy registrars the ability to quickly fix data entry errors, such as a registrar typing a “B” when they meant to write “A.”
When the deputy registrars will be able to make such changes themselves is uncertain, said Dana Bailey, with MNIT. The state agency also does not have a firm date for when people will once again be able to transfer specialty license plates, such as disability and vanity plates. People can get a new disability plate, Bailey said, but it would have a different number on it.
Meanwhile, an outside vendor is developing a system for the state to issue Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards. They are on track to launch it as scheduled on Oct. 1, Bailey said. Deputy registrars are going through a training process for the new system, though Brainerd-based registrar Donny Vosen said offices like his are already strained by MNLARS, and the training is an additional responsibility.
State lawmakers, frustrated by the problematic MNLARS rollout and the system’s ballooning price tag — which had nearly doubled to $93 million by its rollout last July — asked Legislative Auditor James Nobles’ office to look into the issues.
Judy Randall, a deputy legislative auditor, said Nobles’ staff is doing four MNLARS-related projects: an information technology audit of the system, a special review of what went wrong with MNLARS, a financial audit of MNLARS transactions and their accuracy, and a broad evaluation of MNIT.
In addition to the audits, in the recent legislative session lawmakers told state employees to conduct a request for information to see if an outside company could take over the project. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he would like to see the three responses the state received from private vendors before the MNLARS Steering Committee’s next meeting this summer.