Emails tie DMV computer failures to $17 million in upgrades

DENVER -- Two years ago, state lawmakers allocated $93.3 million to the Governor’s Office of Information Technology to upgrade computer systems at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

The project was nicknamed DRIVES -- Driver License, Record, Identification and Vehicle Enterprise Solution.

OIT records show it has spent more than $17 million from the DRIVES fund. But repeated computer-system meltdowns at DMV offices this year continue to cause long lines and delays for people trying to get driver's licenses.

From Feb. 22 to June 7, the FOX31 Problem Solvers recorded at least 10 days where DMV could not, for a prolonged period of time, process in-person licensing applications, properly perform commercial driver’s tests and/or take ID photos because of computer issues.

Customer warning notifications from the El Paso County clerk and recorder documented at least seven of those days, while others were confirmed by visits to local licensing offices or by DMV.

Department of Revenue/DMV spokeswoman Lynn Granger repeatedly said the outages, delays and computer slowdowns were not related to the DRIVES project.

A trove of internal emails indicates OIT and DMV officials behind the scenes believed otherwise.

Targeting the days surrounding known outages, correspondence among the state’s executive teams independent IT contractors and public relations personnel showed the troubles were, at least in part, related to DRIVES, and officials did not want the public to know.

Documents show DMV offices statewide were closed for long stretches of time on March 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Based on an inquiry as to the reasons for DMV system breakdowns on March 9, Granger wrote:

"We are aware of an issue with intermittent conditions that are causing delays at our camera stations. We are working to determine what the issue is and we are focused on correcting it as soon as possible. We are committed to providing excellent customer service and we appreciate the public's patience and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."

However, the media were left in the dark about the topic of DRIVES even though officials were asked if the ongoing computer system upgrades and the current failures were related.

What DMV did not release, until forced to by the Colorado Open Records Act, was a 12-draft email also dated March 9 and titled “for FOX31”

It reads: “IF PRESSED ABOUT DRIVES: (SAY) RIGHT NOW WE DO NOT KNOW IF THIS IS RELATED TO DRIVES.”

But previously undisclosed emails between managers indicate otherwise.

On March 9, the senior director of DMV wrote to another executive director: “You asked were there camera issues before roll-out of DRIVES? There were issues but not at this magnitude.. Each day the situation has grown progressively worse.”

A few days before that, in an email titled "DOWN STATEWIDE AGAIN," another manager wrote: “This type of activity does not make us look good to pilot a highly technological advanced digital driver`s license when we cannot stay stable.”

After another series of computer failures at DMV licensing officers later in March, then again for multiple days in June, DMV continued to deny the DRIVES upgrades were to blame.

However, internal state emails state the expensive DRIVES computer upgrading process was to blame.

A series of emails around June 7 between DMV and OIT managers include sentences such as:

  • "IT DOES APPEAR DRIVES WAS THE PROBLEM.
  • "OFFICES NOT ABLE TO ACCESS DRIVES."
  • "WE ARE EXPERIENCING PROBLEMS WITH THE AAMVA INTERFACE WITH DRIVES."

And then there's a worried email from Dixon: “Just speculating, but I expect we will be hearing from the media soon and very possibly legislators as this recurring situation is significantly impacting customer service. ... Counties ... are under intense pressure from constituents. This pressure often does not bode well for the State.”

Experts at the Governor's Office of Information Technology and DMV declined interview requests.

In 2015, OIT told legislators the $93 million DRIVES project upgrades would be completed by December 2017, but the timeline has changed. Project reports now show completion has been pushed back to December 2018.

As of the end of May, financial reports showed the percentage of work completed so far is only about 5 percent, yet OIT reported it had spent more than 25 percent of the money allocated.