Sunday, September 02, 2018

Texas DPS acknowledges short-staffed call center in budget request to reduce license-center lines

Grits has been critical of state officials who responded to long lines at Texas DPS driver-license facilities by blaming drivers who don't use online systems, in part because of dramatic understaffing of the Customer Service Center to the point that 80 percent of customer calls go unanswered and 83 percent of those answered wait on hold than 10 minutes before they talk to a person. Those folks can't be blamed for going to the license center if they can't get their questions answered on the phone.

So I was pleased to learn that a big portion of DPS exceptional items in their legislative appropriations request (LAR) for the next biennium would go toward beefing up the Customer Service Center, including increasing starting salaries. Reported the Dallas News:
Topping the list was a request for pay raises for the offices' customer service representatives. Each makes an average of $26,000 a year. The agency proposed to increase that to $35,000. Doing so would cost $51.3 million in the 2020-2021 budget cycle.

Amanda Arriaga, director of the driver license division, said the move would "honor" the professional work the customer service representatives do and help stanch high turnover. Staff exits contribute to intermittent office closures and frustratingly long lines, she said.

"We have a pretty significant turnover rate at that ... entry level," she said. "We thought this was a great step in the right direction, that the No. 1 thing we should do is give props to our people who are doing this job every day."

She said the department currently has about 200 vacancies in the division.  
By the time the Lege has a) raised salaries and b) filled 200 vacancies (!), the Customer Service Center will become a much more costly line item.

In addition, DPS wants to increase staff at the license centers:
To increase staffing at the driver's license offices, the department will ask for 962 more full-time employees at a two-year cost of $178.6 million. DPS also will look to expand the number of offices in the 15 highest-growing areas in the state, which include Fort Worth, Plano/McKinney and Denton. That would require 952 additional employees at a cost of $190.1 million.
These investments would be a start, but they won't be enough to resolve the problem unless the Legislature addresses the policies which cause more people than necessary to need to renew their licenses at any given time.

The biggest of these self-inflicted wounds is the Driver Responsibility surcharge, which causes hundreds of thousands of Texans to have their licenses revoked every year. Hard to predict the Lege will eliminate it, since they've failed to so many times before, but if they do it will solve a lot of different problems simultaneously. Compared to how much the Lege will need to spend on license-center staffing and Customer Service Center salaries, the $75 million or so per year generated by driver surcharges for trauma hospitals is a relative drop in the bucket.

It's also time to stop requiring sex offenders to renew their driver-licenses annually. They're already subject to registration requirements and the annual DL-renewal adds almost 100,000 people to license-center lines every year who mostly don't need to be there.

Grits has yet to hear any legislator take responsibility for the Lege-driven policies that are causing long license-center lines - neither regarding chintzy budget decisions on the Customer Service Center nor the extra renewals caused by surcharges, nor needlessly punitive annual renewals for sex-offenders, not to mention the use of license revocations for punishment.

Most of these things aren't even part of the conversation. It's taken weeks of discussion for the MSM or state pols to even mention the Customer Service Center's understaffing, even though its dysfunctional nature is a primary source of the problem.

The Sunset Commission, inexplicably, has suggested addressing the situation by moving authority over driver-license management from Texas DPS to the Department of Motor Vehicles. That's completely pointless! The problems stem from bad budget and policy decisions, not which government bureaucracy oversees the licensing function.

Perhaps, by the time session rolls around, debates over DPS license-center lines will have shifted from the initial finger pointing to actually confronting problems with pragmatic solutions. If they do, then the 86th Legislature will focus on: 1) funding the call center, 2) ending the requirement for sex offenders to renew driver licenses annually, 3) abolition of the Driver Responsibility surcharge, granting amnesty to those who've lost their licenses, and 4) ending use of driver-license revocations to punish non-payment of criminal-justice debt. Those are the underlying pathologies and Texas won't resolve them just by throwing money at the symptoms (i.e., long lines).

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Why not end the long lines by hiring jobless sex offenders who can't find employment? To further cut costs why not exempt sex offenders over the age of 65 that qualify for nursing home level care such as the PACE program? Makes sense to put law enforcement dollars to work on those that actually pose a threat to society instead of invalids and those that use walkers and wheelchairs. Federal funds that support Texas law enforcement programs need a sanity check.

Anonymous said...

Or use felons to staff the call centers. 411 is operated by federal inmates.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the issue of not requiring Sex Offenders [SO] to renew their TDL yearly has been a non-starter for several sessions of the lege because the DPS does not want to lose that revenue stream. Would DPS consider dropping that objection now, in light of the issues that have appeared in Grits lately?

Even a change to allow SO to register online would be a step in the right direction and would still allow DPS to collect their money.

It would also help the SO who must take off work and go to the DPL facility in order to register in-person every year.

Soronel Haetir said...

$100k/year/employee for drivers license staff seems like an extraordinarily high cost. Particularly when they say that a call center employee should get a raise to $35k/year. ($190.1m / 2 / 952 ~= $99,842.44).

Anonymous said...

Or consider this: SO's likely have to take a day off every year regardless to register, the local police registration office probably even less flexible with scheduling than a DPS office that you can simply walk into, in some cities RSO's are expected to schedule their registration over a month in advance. All this information goes into a DPS database.

Allow RSO's to update their registration at the DPS office. A licensed peace officer earns more than 35k a year but in most cities it's a licensed peace officer filling out the registration forms. That's a police officer not conducting investigations, not walking a beat, not stopping any crime except "failure to register."

Replace him with an hourly DPS employee who is already collecting the same information from the same people anyway. Stop doing the same job twice.

Now your RSO's can walk into an office and update their registration literally any day of the week that isn't a state or federal holiday with no appointment and skipping whatever lead time their local cops need because they are understaffed. And they pay for the privilege.

The question is, how badly do you want your RSO's to be properly registered? If you want it badly then you'll make it simple to do. Remember, registration isn't a punishment, it's an administrative requirement, and forcing them to update the same information twice, rarely on the same day is not an efficient use of anyone's time.

For all these politicians running on their "business" credentials it wouldn't hurt to see some Kaizen in government. But what do I know, if I was wasting this much of my companies time and money I'd have to get a new job... Maybe in a DPS call center!

Tim said...

The cost of producing a driver license is likely proportionate to that of the mint producing a penny or nickel...meaning they cost more to produce than they are worth. I don't believe annual DLs renewals for RSOs are a major revenue producing source as some suggest.

Anonymous said...

It costs RSO's $20 a year to renew their licenses, which you're right, probably pays that clerk for a whole hour of work and covers the cost of the card. All the more reason we should take the police out of the registration business and move the whole thing to DPS.