Topeka A legislative committee in Kansas ordered an audit Tuesday of a $40 million upgrade of the state computer system handling vehicle registrations, reflecting bipartisan frustration with long lines and hours of waiting in recent weeks in some counties for residents getting their annual car tags.
But the Legislative Post Audit Committee also honored a request from Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan to delay the start of auditing until later this year, so that the review doesn’t delay work by his department’s Division of Vehicles to fix computer problems. The state auditors supervised by the committee don’t expect to begin their examination until December, with a report issued in late spring.
The division rolled out the upgraded system in early May, and county treasurers to stop taking vehicle registrations, driver’s license applications and other related business for about a week during the installation. That created backlogs, and other problems with the system have hampered counties’ efforts to deal with the backlog, even as residents come in with new business.
Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who initially sought the audit, said she wants to know whether the division made mistakes in designing the system, putting it in place or responding to problems so that other agencies don’t face problems with major computer upgrades. During the committee’s meeting, she was joined in pushing for the review by Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, a Thayer Republican.
“We have been victims of a disaster that’s been created by this transition,” Kelly said. “It’s apparent even to a lay person that the system is not working the way it ought to be working.”
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration inherited the project — the first overhaul of the division’s computer system since the mid-1980s — from the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Mark Parkinson. The problems have sparked a debate over whether the project was flawed, Brownback’s administration rolled it out too quickly or some county treasurers neglected training and staffing.
The Department of Revenue, which oversees the Division of Vehicles, announced last month that it was withholding $2.5 million, or the final payment, due to its contractor, 3M Co., until problems are resolved.
But Jordan told the legislative committee that bugs are being worked out and that the system is now processing more registrations and new and revised vehicle titles than the old system did last year. For the five business days ending Monday, the division said, the system handled more than 54,000 vehicle registration renewals, almost 28 percent more than during the same period in 2011, as counties worked on their backlogs.
“I think we probably did as good a job as we could to implement this project,” Jordan said, noting that his department consulted with county treasurers before rolling out the upgrade.
Some of the state’s most populous counties have seen big backlogs in processing vehicle registrations, with long lines persisting particularly in Shawnee County. At least several counties have reported incurring thousands of dollars in overtime expenses, and Johnson County recently decided to expand the staff of its treasurer’s office.
Such costs prompted Republican Reps. Mike Burgess, of Topeka; Jim Denning, of Overland Park, and Ron Worley, of Lenexa, to promise legislation to require the Department of Revenue to set up a program for reimbursing counties.
Denning said some problems have been caused by the “common learning curve” facing county employees, while some can be attributed to software issues.
“I really think the worst is behind us,” Denning said.
Jordan told legislators that he didn’t oppose an audit, but, “Please let us have time to get past some of the crisis situation we’re in now.”
Several Republicans on the committee had misgivings about the audit, questioning the value of a “post-mortem,” particularly if problems don’t persist much longer.
“I’d hate to accept an audit that, by the time we get it started, it may just seem like it’s not necessary,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, an Emporia Republican.