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Letter: We're going to fix MN drivers license system

Minnesotans work hard and pay their taxes. In return, they expect and deserve high-quality, efficient services from their state government. They should get nothing less.

That is why Minnesota IT Services, under new leadership, is strongly committed to fixing the problems with our state's Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, or MNLARS. There is no excuse for the problems this system has created for Minnesotans these last six months, and we deeply regret the impact it has had on our people and businesses.

We have a long way to go to get this right — and we need a significant investment to do it — but we are committed to getting this project done well once and for all, for the people of Minnesota. With the resources we need and support from the Legislature, we can and will deliver on that promise.

Just three months ago, Gov. Mark Dayton asked me to join Minnesota IT Services as executive director of the MNLARS project. Since then, I have driven 1,600 miles across our state to meet with deputy registrars, auto dealers, credit unions, lenders, auctioneers, and other Minnesotans. I talked with them one-on-one to understand how the MNLARS system was working, to see firsthand the problems it was creating for businesses and people, and to ask what we could do to get this project done right.

We took their detailed feedback seriously. We responded to each of their concerns. And then we took everything we learned and put together a comprehensive plan to fix the problems.

We already are making significant progress to make MNLARS work better. The backlog created by MNLARS's technical problems at one point reached as high as 380,000 delayed vehicle titles. Working around the clock, we have cut that backlog in half. Later this month, we are hopeful a whole new round of fixes will cut that backlog even further.

More than that, more than 3 million Minnesotans have received their plates and stickers through the system already. The MNLARS system has not experienced a shutdown or outage since before Thanksgiving. That's more than 100 days. And since the MNLARS system launched in July, more than 775,000 Minnesotans have received their titles with an average of 5,300 receiving their titles every day.

But we must follow the priorities that deputy registrars, auto dealers, and so many other Minnesotans helped us put forward. Without that plan, or "roadmap," and without the funding we need to fully implement it, Minnesotans will not get the quality, reliable service they expect and deserve.

At this point, we can't stop working, and we can't slow down. This system represents a core function of government: Minnesotans need it to work smoothly so they can get their business done. It processes more than $1 billion in transactions each year, and ensuring the data it holds is accurate and usable helps to keep us all safe.

I'm not the only one fighting to fix this system. Every day, 62 software engineers and dedicated state employees work tirelessly to get this right. And just a few weeks ago, Gov. Dayton announced his choice for a new commissioner of Minnesota IT Services to lead us in fixing this critically important service for Minnesotans.

Brig. Gen. Johanna Clyborne began her new role as commissioner just last week. Upon her appointment she said, "There is no service that more urgently requires our time, attention, and expertise. I will not let you down. And, most importantly, I won't let the people of Minnesota down." It is clear from her first few days in the office she means business.

Everyone at Minnesota IT Services, and Gov. Dayton, share the same mission: to make the MNLARS system work flawlessly for the people of Minnesota. We are accountable for getting this done right.

The $43 million needed to complete this project is not an easy number, but it's a necessary one. We understand the frustration that comes with this financial need, and we share it. But frustration alone will not fix the problem nor get Minnesotans the services they expect and deserve.

MNLARS is too important to stop improving, and we need to cross the finish line. We are committed to moving forward and making this system right. To do so, we — and the many deputy registrars, auto dealers, and hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who need this system to work well — now need legislative support to finish the job. We look forward to working with the Legislature this session to do exactly that. The people of Minnesota deserve nothing less.

Dana Bailey is executive director of projects and initiatives for the Minnesota IT Services state agency.