DMV Hits Reverse, Takes Blame for Computer Outage

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was quick to diagnose the latest computer problem when its system came to a crashing halt on Tuesday.

“The State is currently experiencing communications issues between AT&T & Verizon that is impacting both DMV online & field office services,” the department posted on its website, which was still accessible but not very functional. And that was the department’s explanation for the next few days as it mopped up after the four-hour crash that immobilized its 169 offices around the state, adding to its reputation as a bloated bureaucracy struggling to perform basic functions.

On Thursday, the DMV changed its tune and took full responsibility for the technical snafu.

Two separate router failures, one at DMV and the other at the Office of Technology Services (OTS) were blamed for incident.

“It was as weird as weird can be,” OTS assistant secretary of external affairs Adam Dondro told the San Francisco Chronicle. The DMV router failure stopped bringing in information from the Verizon network, effectively turning its computer system off.

A second router failure at OTS whacked systems at 30 state departments, including libraries and public health services, but that disruption was little noticed because it didn’t affect day-to-day operations, Dondro said. The department insisted that the glitch was unrelated to a multi-million-dollar DMV modernization project that suffered through several department-wide crashes in 2010.

The DMV has been plagued by computer problems for almost as long as there have been computers. A computer modernization project in the 1990s consumed more than $40 million before the plugged was pulled.

In its 2009-2010 analysis of the department’s IT projects, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that over a three-year period the administration and the Legislature had authorized eight different IT projects, with a total original estimated cost of approximately $350 million. At the time of the report, five of the eight projects were still under development.

Kurtis Ming at CBS, who tracks DMV and its technological challenges, asked department official Mike Marando why they only had a single router to handle such a critical connection to Verizon. He responded: “We have several routers, but each one of them has essentially a different mission. These are complex systems.”

Ming, whose surveillance of DMV includes monitoring the agency's Twitter account, noted a number of computer problems that the department had recently acknowledged. “We’ve found they’ve apologized for technical difficulties with their system 10 times since July and 26 since February.”

DMV’s website was up and down for a week last June, alternately providing on-screen error messages, dead links or no access at all.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Takes Blame for Computer Shutdown (by Ellen Huett, San Francisco Chronicle)

Call Kurtis Investigates: DMV Computer Problems Shut Down Offices Again (by Kurtis Ming, CBS)

DMV Management of IT Projects (Legislative Analyst’s Office)

DMV Computer Upgrade Goes Awry (The Risks Digest)

Punk’d? DMV Website Hits the Wall Days after Being Sued by Ashton Kutcher (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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