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NC DMV wants to improve its customer service. It really needs some goals, auditor says.

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles collects a lot of data, but much of it shows how much work the agency is doing, not how well it is doing it, according to a state audit.
The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles collects a lot of data, but much of it shows how much work the agency is doing, not how well it is doing it, according to a state audit. rstradling@newsobserver.com

The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles set out to improve customer service a few years ago, but the state auditor's office said this week that the agency doesn't do a good job of measuring how well it is doing.

In a report released Thursday, the Office of State Auditor said DMV lacks specific goals and objectives and in any event doesn't collect the kind of data that would indicate whether it is meeting them.

DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup agrees. In a one-page memo in response to the audit, Jessup said DMV would hire an "outside expert" to help develop a strategic plan for the agency, including specific goals and the measures it will use to determine whether it is meeting them.

"The commissioner is very grateful to the auditor’s office for pointing out areas we need to improve,” said DMV spokeswoman Marge Howell.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory pledged to "fix DMV" both as a candidate and after he took office in 2013. During his administration, DMV took several steps aimed at improving customer service and reducing wait times, such as expanding evening and weekend hours and offering more services online, including routine license renewals.

But the audit, which looked at DMV activities over a year ending last June 30, concluded that the agency falls short in measuring its own performance.

DMV collects nearly 300 different types of data, according to the audit. But nearly all of that data has to do with how much work the agency is doing, and not how well it is doing it.

For example, knowing that DMV issues hundreds of thousands of vehicle registrations a year gives some sense of what the agency does, wrote the audit's author, Dale Roenigk, director of the benchmarking program at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. But it doesn't show how much it costs on average to issue a registration, how long it takes for customers to receive one and how often the registrations contain errors.

"Effective performance measurement should be more than just what can be measured but measuring what is important," Roenigk wrote.

DMV will hire a consultant within 90 days to help determine what's important. It's not clear yet how long it will take DMV to develop its strategic plan and begin measuring its performance, Howell said.

“DMV’s always looking for any way we can find to help us improve our services to our customers and our efficiencies — anything that’s going to make us work better," she said. "And we’re looking forward to getting that kind of information from this study.”

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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