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Tech Entrepreneur Takes Over California DMV

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California's Department of Motor Vehicles has a reputation, and it's not a good one, unless you're a fan of long lines and balky software. Governor Gavin Newsom has made modernizing and improving the DMV experience a priority. He appointed tech entrepreneur Steve Gordon to head the agency, with the expectation that things will change, in a good way.

Speaker 1: 00:00 California's DMV is on the cutting edge of 1973 that's how governor Gavin Newsome described the fraud agency in his 2013 book. Citizen bill last month, the Newsome opponent, Steve Gordon, to turn the DMV around, fixed the computer system, ease the ridiculous wait times, straighten up a motor voter mess, make renewing your license. A reasonable experience. Gordon, who once worked for the San Diego county auditor is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur now. He's director of the California Department of motor vehicles. He's been on the DMV job for a month and he joined me from Sacramento. Steve Gordon, welcome to midday edition. Great Mark. Thanks for having me. Well, first off, why in the world did you take this job?

Speaker 2: 00:44 Well, you know, it's a interesting story. My wife happened to see an article in, uh, in the San Jose mercury news from Aaron Bald Ozzie or Badassery, sorry if I'm not pronouncing her name right, but she wrote an article about, look, if you don't like the DMV, it's your chance to run it. And in that article, believe it or not, at the bottom there was a link to the appointment's website of the governor. And so I read the article and I said, well, why not?

Speaker 1: 01:05 Well, the La Times had an interesting anecdote in their story about you, about your visit to the DMV office in San Jose one morning. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 01:13 Sure. I think that, you know, one of the, one of the tasks that the, the appointments offices from the governor's office had for me is like, Whoa, go off and just give us your observation of what you see at the DMV. And I know the intended for me to go in, you know, during working hours and walk around, which I did, but I also thought, well, well, who's out there at six o'clock in the morning? And you know, so I was out there as, as the article stated, my flip flops, my, uh, my faded jeans and a Polo shirt and I may have been, you know, right out of bed, but, and I just wanted to see how many people were in the parking lot. And every DMV. I went to three different ones. Every DMV, there was at least one in some cases, two or three people that are sitting there.

Speaker 2: 01:47 And I, and I talked to every one of us. And why are you here so early in the morning? What are you trying to accomplish? And, and asking me to, you know, for the people who brought a chair, well that's pretty good that people didn't bring a chair. So you know, you gotta think about bringing in a chair next time. But it was very important to me to understand, well what, what lengths do people go to to be able to get served? And it helped me kind of, you know, frame some ideas about how we can actually get those people through the internet or through some other digital means to be able to achieve their objective without waiting outside. Uh, you know, essentially our retail establishment at the state.

Speaker 1: 02:16 Well, right after he took off as governor Newsome announced he was reef who was forming, that is a DMV re-invention strike team and the team's report came out last month. What's happening with the number one item, which is what we're talking about wait times.

Speaker 2: 02:29 Well, a number of things are happening there. I mean if you think about wait times and the main driver of wait times today is really is going to be this push for real ideas. And you know, there's been this drum beat in the media to get people to get a real id. So we're trying to build a series of strategies to get people to other services, whether they be kiosks, whether they be uh, intranet services services. We can do VR call center, but getting them so they can use a channel that's most appropriate for the transaction they want to do, which is going to clear a path for the people that really need to come into the office. I think people default to the office and what we want to do is make sure that they're aware of all the other services that are available in their community.

Speaker 2: 03:06 And equally important, you know, mark, you know, there are a number of people that think they need a real id and think about your area. I mean, I'm not sure how broad your broadcast area, if you think about San Diego in general, large military population, almost every one of those people in the military has a military id, which is approved by Department of Homeland Security to be, uh, to be in lieu of I California Real Id. So we want to encourage people that already have met the requirements for DHS to, to leverage those cards. Same for passwords. 60% of the people in California have a passport. Most of those are valid for an extended period of time, like you or me. And there's no reason necessarily they go off and get out and get a real id.

Speaker 1: 03:42 And, and what about credit cards? Is the DMV taking them now?

Speaker 2: 03:45 Yeah. So we have our, our well, DME takes credit cards on many fronts. We're finally going to take them at our field offices starting later this month. We have a test run, uh, with our selected vendor at the end of this month in Davis, and then we're going to roll them out throughout the remainder of the year.

Speaker 1: 04:00 All right. And the DMV numbers alone are daunting. 9,700 employees, 172 field offices, one point $3 billion budget. The DMV license is 27 million drivers registered, 35.7 million motor vehicles. How do you even start to revamp something so huge?

Speaker 2: 04:18 Well, I mean, uh, it's, it's big and those are just, those are the, the numbers that are in the retail side of the business. And we regulate, you know, the autonomous vehicle go industry. We regulate commercial trucking. We have a various rules and regulations for traffic school. So we have a very, very large per view. And to be honest, as I think about this job, I thought about it or I looked at it through the lens that, you know, that you just looked at it through, you know, based on number of people that get driver's license, vehicle registration. But we do a lot more. So now the question is actually a lot bigger than what you asked. And I'm trying to prioritize my, my approach where we're very focused on, you know, the strike king report. Those guys did a great job of identifying, you know, the the targets we should, uh, we should attack and we're gonna prioritize those to make sure, again, we clear that path for real id and for people that need to be in a, in a retail space, we need to enable, you know, all this stuff online we already talked about.

Speaker 2: 05:06 So we're trying to stay focused on the things that are, you know, high priority right here, right now.

Speaker 1: 05:11 Now one of the big problems has been the motor voter program, which produced tens of thousands of duplicate records. How do we know or do we know why that happened and what's being done about it?

Speaker 2: 05:21 You know, the, the amount of coordination required to make that work effectively was a mince and did some things fall between the cracks? Absolutely. I think, but very quickly I think people understood what those issues were. They re they remedied those and how we go forward, right? We have now formalized interagency agreements, very clear control structure. So we know who's supposed to do what. When we test, we test across all the departments that are involved with those initiatives. So we make sure that what goes in comes out the way we want it to go. And it's kind of basic program management that, you know, we probably should have done a much better job on day one. The team did a, I think a great job considering that they were under a lot of pressure to generate an outcome right away. But I feel very confident with the control control structure we have in place now. The inner agency agreements we have between the different up departments and we have a QA process that I think is very tight and I personally, you know, look at those numbers a lot with my team to make sure that the things that are coming through that pipe are the things that should be coming through that pipe. And I'm assuming each one of my partners are doing the same thing as well.

Speaker 1: 06:17 And will it be running smoothly by uh, the march primary coming up?

Speaker 2: 06:21 Oh, absolutely. I, it's running smoothly now. We've registered over 5 million people to vote. I think the stuff that was published in the press recently, it was really a a view from over a year ago. And so you know really within a couple of months of that initial launch, these, these problems that we've talked about were identified. They are remedied. It's taken us a little while to get the inner agency agreement working cause we, we've got a bunch of lawyers working on that but we want to make sure that we do that right. But we're watching it like a hawk. We're working, we were on the phone a couple times a week between secretary of state and the agencies that we work with at the state to make sure that the process works well. And again, the QA process, we're looking at that on a daily and weekly basis as a management team to make sure that you know, what's coming in is going out correctly

Speaker 1: 07:02 now. What would you like to see the DMV look like 10 years from now?

Speaker 2: 07:06 You know, we're again very laser focused on kind of the here and now and execution. But you can imagine that, you know, we want the DMV to be as modern as any enterprise. And I can't predict, you know, what Starbucks or others and other state agency or are your best service agency in, in the marketplace will do. But I will say this is that, you know, we, we certainly believe in digitizing everything that we do and it comes down to digital experiences, digital ids. There's, there's no reason that we should do things on paper that you, we should be able to recognize you from your mobile phone, which is authenticate you because you've, you've captured your credentials on your mobile device. I'm just speculating here where the technology will be and you should be able to, you'll use your, your mobile device or some other credential that's been authenticated and tied to you, uh, that will identify you wherever you go.

Speaker 2: 07:51 So whether it's a traffic stop or whether you need to renew something, you know, that should all be automatic and you should be able to do everything from your mobile phone. And then that's been, you know, been tied to your personality, things like that. But I mean, coming into an office and processing paper, you know, that should be, that should be over with. I mean, that should be maybe the, the rare exception where maybe there's a federal policy that requires, you know, wet ink on a piece of paper, but I'm not even sure that's going to exist 10 years from now. Mark.

Speaker 1: 08:15 Well, I've been speaking with Steve Gordon, new director of the California Department of motor vehicles. Thanks very much for being with us, mark. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.