Claremore and Rogers County residents have faced challenges the last couple of years getting their driver’s licenses, and it hasn’t been because standards are all that high. Applicants have experienced long lines, unexpected site closures, and reduced days of availability. So what gives?
Most people are aware of the state’s “revenue failures” the last few years, but sometimes, it is unclear how those problems show up. During budget discussions in my past role as the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety, it was clear that departmental leadership was struggling to fund adequate numbers of highway patrolmen, as well as keeping driver’s license examination sites open. There was serious consideration one year of closing over half the sites in the state. Compromises were made, but that resulted in reduced services in an era when expectations regarding customer service in the private sector are at an all-time high. I’ve found people willing to be fairly patient once they know what is going on, but there are limits. Senator Marty Quinn arranged for us to meet late this week with the DPS director in Oklahoma City to convey constituents’ concerns and expectations. Until then, perhaps a few comments about the backstory and the path forward will be helpful.
Prior to September of 2016, the Claremore examination site was open 5 days a week, staffed with 3 examiners. That month, to reduce expenses, early retirement was offered system-wide, and one of the Claremore examiners left. (By the way, 2016 was the session we were staring at a $1.3B deficit from the previous year.) Obviously, if one of the two remaining employees was ill or took a day off, service was very limited, but if one was on vacation, and then one called in sick, there simply was no service, and an unplanned closure would result. In March of this year, one of the two examiners transferred to another job. So, at the current time, the site is only open two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, staffed with three examiners, two of which are based out of the Muskogee office. The other three days, the Claremore examiner works in Muskogee. Each day, some productive time is lost as employees travel an hour to the other site. This is a story that has been repeated statewide. Customers are unhappy, and express their feelings to the front line employees, who really can’t do much about the problem. People react in different ways, but it isn’t surprising that employee morale is difficult to maintain in that environment over a sustained period, and that some will seek other employment. Let’s leave it at that.
The good news is that some relief is on the way. Eleven new examiners have completed their second week of a five week driver exam school. That will be followed by a second phase of working at a location with an experienced examiner before being allowed to work alone. That time will vary based on individual progression. One of these new examiners will definitely be assigned to Claremore, and two to Muskogee, such that each site will once again be open 5 days a week. The department anticipates starting another class of 10 examiners at the end of August. Claremore’s need is considered critical as its volume justifies a third examiner. Keep in mind that these issues are not unique Claremore, and day to day, work force might be moved to handle the most critical problem areas.
While no one is happy with the current level of service, and it won’t help with today’s delays, perhaps knowing the path forward provides some assurance that the need is understood.
And all of this leads to the question I ask of every state agency: what are we going to do differently to deliver a better product or service? Continual process improvement is the hallmark of all successful organizations, and should be the culture in state government. Oklahoma simply must become more efficient and effective in its use of our tax dollars. That is where I will be focused during our meeting.
During this interim, you can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, Rm. 441, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.
State Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.