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I pride myself on being a red-tape cutting, bureaucracy-slaying, gov 2.0 machine. If I ever run for office, I would like this song by Cake to be my theme song.
So it was pretty surprising to find myself in a gov 1.0 quagmire on a standard government transaction: renewing a driver’s license. I showed up to a Washington State DMV office on a Saturday in mid-October, to find myself in a line of 45 people just to get a number, to then wait with 150 people in one of the few DMVs left in Washington State (state budget cuts mean more citizen time standing in line for these type of transactions—you can’t do everything online). OK, fine. 4 hours of my life goes by in a crowded room full of screaming babies.
But then my number is called and the clerk informs me that two of the state’s databases are down today. I ask if this happens a lot. She says, “more than we like.” Part of me suspects there’s a 1960’s mainframe who just stole 4 hours of my life. So, she runs my card saying that I’ll get my temporary license today, and if I don’t get my license in the mail, it’s because they weren’t able to check that I didn’t have a parking ticket somewhere that needed to be paid before I got my license renewed. OK, fine. I’ll wait for the new one. I can’t think of any unpaid parking tickets, so I assume I’ll be fine. Sure, I blinked in my photo, and I now look like a tan (spray-tanning is necessary for a decent license photo), drunk blond on my license. Fine. Whatever.
1.5 months goes by and I don’t realize that the temporary has expired until I go to rent a car and get to special session. No rental car for you, Sarah, you’ll be taking the surprisingly efficient Capitol Aeroporter to Olympia for the special session.
The DOL office folks can’t tell me why my license hasn’t arrived. They don’t know what to do. I check the website. I call the local office. All of which takes hours on hold and searching online. The most I can get is there is a “hold” on my license. Whaa? Why?
The people I need to talk to at DOL are on furlough. And when they’re working, the phone lines are so backed up that I spend 45 minutes here, an hour there, just waiting to talk to someone. Finally, on a few days before Christmas, I hear that my 92 year old grandfather has broken his leg and things look bleak. I spent nearly 2 hours on hold with Washington’s DOL, and another 20 minutes waiting for the agent to find out why there was a hold on my card.
Turns out, in 2003, I paid a speeding ticket in Vermont, but the check I mailed to them a little late, and there was a late fee. Instead of mailing me or calling me about this fee, Vermont suspended my license in the national database. How’d they do that? They issued a fake licsene for me in Vermont, then revoked it, so that whenever I tried to renew my license, I’d have to pay the license re-instatement fee of $71.
Washington, for it’s part, does not notify license renewers if they have a hold on their card, forcing renewers to figure things out in the slow, backwards way I did. The clerk tells me to have Vermont fax the reinstatement paperwork to them and I can pick up a license today. Fine. 90’s technology is fine. I can persuade Vermont to send a fax.
But Vermont doesn’t fax. Or email. Or update a national database except to revoke a license. But I have to see my grandpa, I protest. I need to rent a car. “Sorry, no can do, we only mail.”
Yesterday, Vermont mailed me a letter saying I could get a license in Vermont again. Brilliant. Because that’s what I really need. To regain a license that never existed in the first place.
What citizens like me need is their time, and opportunities, back. We need not to have these cascading failure chains happen during a family emergency.
My grandfather passed between Christmas and New Years. I got to see him before he passed into a coma, and again before he passed, thanks to my cousins and boyfriend ferrying me up to Bellingham. I’m really thankful for that time, but I could’ve spent more time with him if I didn’t have to rely on other people to get me there and back.
I still don’t have my license in Washington, since DOL has been on furlough through most of the holidays, and they’ve got a considerable backlog. I’m thinking I might have my license by February, if I’m lucky.
“All government fax machines and mainframes need to meet the same, inevitable, fate:
Amazing saga. How awful you had to live it. Even those of us ‘in’ government, whether hired or elected into it, are wise to view its processes with care and skepticism.
My shorter and far less painful recent story: Of course everyone knows of the economic nightmare due to the real estate market, to make a long story short. My wife and I are buying a fixer upper, and as part of the disclosure process, my wife and I were given a sheet of paper that warned the government will investigate if there’s fraud in the real estate process. I looked at the sheet in disbelief. They I laughed. What a dilemma. God help us if they investigate problems, and God help us if they don’t.