Less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown called for an audit of the Department of Motor Vehicles, a Westside state lawmaker has pledged to “hold their feet to the fire” when the Legislature returns to Sacramento next week.

What began as a series of complaints about hours-long wait times has since spread to allegations of DMV employees sleeping on the job and problems with the department’s motor voter files, and has the potential to blow up into a full-on scandal.

On Sept. 4, DMV officials admitted that they sent more than 23,000 erroneous voter registrations to the Secretary of State’s office, which could have an impact on voter registration, party registration and the ability of those affected voters to cast their ballots — just over a month before the midterm elections.

The audit has drawn the ire of state lawmakers.

“I plan on being at the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee’s hearing on Oct. 4 in Sacramento to monitor progress and hold the department’s feet to the fire,” said state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica). “I have been monitoring closely the progress of the reforms put in place by the Brown administration several weeks ago that were intended to reduce the unacceptable wait times and other performance issues at the DMV. While progress has been made in reducing wait times, it is clear that in many DMV offices the problems are still very bad, and the public is not being well served.”

The voter data breach comes two months after Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office announced more than 800,000 voter registration applications this year between April and June.

“Waiting in long lines is one thing but walking in registered one way and walking out registered another way is something else entirely,” asserted Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), known as a strong DMV critic. “There is a pattern here. There have been 35 outages in the last 18 months — the longest one was nine hours long. There will be future outages, too. The DMV cannot be trusted to police itself.”

State Finance Department director Keely Martin Bosler notified DMV director Jean Shiomoto in a letter last week of the pending audit. “As we have discussed, long wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles do not reflect the high standards of service that Californians expect from their state government,” Bosler wrote.

Calls for an audit in August were shelved due to a lack of support from Democrats.

Steven Gourley, who was appointed by former Gov. Gray Davis to run the state office in 2000, said the office has always been the victim of insufficient funding.

“Every year I was at DMV, the governor’s office prohibited the DMV from asking for more employees to handle more customers. In fact, for every saving generated by online registration, we were mandated to fire employees, so that the service could never get better,” Gourley told L.A. Weekly.

“DMV raises $10 billion a year from California taxpayers. If the governor or the Legislature wants to provide DMV with the money to do DMV’s job, don’t take the money from the agency that collects money, take it from an agency that only gives money away,” he continued.

The long wait times in line have roiled customers and lawmakers alike; anger surged after it was announced earlier this year that a study by the Sacramento Bee found wait times have increased 50 percent statewide this year and 48 percent in Northern California. At some offices wait times had gone up from 137 minutes to 162 minutes.

Gourley said in addition to not receiving a fair share of state funding, DMV offices often are understaffed. “DMV generates money for several other state agencies. Nobody fights for the DMV and therefore it doesn’t get any attention — unless it’s of the negative variety,” he said. “Their computers are probably overburdened.” 

He also thinks the department wouldn’t make mistakes with motor voter registration if it had more funding. “It just adds another job to the DMV to handle it. They could handle it if they had the budget for it. They’re the Rodney Dangerfield of state agencies — they don’t get no respect,” Gourley quipped.

Allen credited Brown for calling for the audit.

“Needless to say, I am pleased that the governor is honoring his commitment to me and other senators that he will do everything in his power to remedy these issues. I look forward to the findings of this targeted audit, and to the implementation of additional reforms to get the DMV back on track,” he said.

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