BOISE — When, during his budget presentation on Friday morning, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness didn’t initially address the DMV software mess last year that led to shutdowns and hourslong waits for Idahoans trying to renew their driver’s licenses, lawmakers asked him about it.
“We’re renegotiating the contract with the vendor right now,” Ness told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “The vendor will not be paid for the services not provided. We do need the vendor for certain things, but we’ll limit it to those things we really need.”
Ness said ITD also has been meeting with the new state heads of information technology and the Department of Administration to discuss “how can we do contracting differently in the future so this doesn’t happen again.”
He said two things have been identified so far: First, that there should be “some independent verification that we’re ready to go” before “you flip that switch to turn it on so that it’s interfacing with the public.”
Secondly, he said, the contracting process was fragmented between ITD and the Department of Administration, and the two did “not really have a clear understanding of what each other’s needs were.” ITD was focused on its customer services needs, he said, while Administration was focused on contract management, minimizing risk and legal issues. “And sometimes those conflict a little bit.”
Ness said the hope is, for large contracts, to create teams including “someone from the department, someone from purchasing, someone from the IT area. … So you have these teams and they own that, from the very time you scope it all the way through.” The performance of the team also would be evaluated as a group, he said.
“Those are kind of the two areas that we are looking at, and we anticipate moving forward with a couple of those ideas,” Ness said.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said, “The people I heard the most from were the counties and sheriffs who were struggling with this. Would you be adding the people who are implementing the project to your team?”
Ness responded, “That didn’t come up in the discussion. … I think that’s a fantastic idea.”
Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said she represents four counties, and all had big concerns about the DMV issues, and didn’t have additional resources to devote to overtime or expanded hours to cope with the backlog and lines. She asked Ness if ITD could provide funding to local DMVs to cover that, “so that if we do go down, the counties don’t have to bear that burden.”
Ness responded, “I think there’s all kinds of options on the table right now,” from who does what to who bears the costs. “All these are ongoing discussions.”
For next year, Gov. Brad Little is proposing a 3.7 percent increase in ITD’s budget, bringing it to $726.9 million. No state general funds are included; the department operates with dedicated funds from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, along with federal highway funds and certain other smaller sources, including, for the past several years, a “surplus eliminator” that transferred some general funds into the ITD’s dedicated funds at the end of each year.
Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, asked Ness how ITD is likely to be funded in the future, with increased vehicle efficiency and falling gas tax revenues. Ness said it’ll have to change, because those funding sources don’t go up with inflation — the gas tax is per-gallon — and in addition to increased efficiency, more and more electric vehicles are coming that don’t use gas. “So we’re going to continue to see our revenue go down,” Ness said. “I’m not sure a gas tax is sustainable in the future, and that’s something we need to look at. They’re looking across the country at things like that.”
Idaho is part of a multi-state pilot program on measuring vehicle miles traveled to determine taxes, rather than gallons of gas purchased, Ness said. “There are some things we have to work through in Idaho, such as, I’m driving my car, do I want the government monitoring where I am and what road I’m using,” he said. “I guess they can do it on my cell phone — that’s what my grandson tells me.” But there are “hurdles,” he said. “We’ve got to start looking at what are some other ways to fund transportation … that ensure we build in that hedge for inflation, so we don’t continue to get behind as the costs go up.”