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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tales of Government Efficiency

NH Watchdog lives by a fairly simple motto; live in the truth. Report the facts as fairly and completely and trust that the evidence will support freedom.

It is in that spirit that I would like to recount my experience yesterday with the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles. The DMV has become a parody of itself these days, ranking behind perhaps only the Post Office as a symbol of bureaucratic cluelessness. The very name conjures up images of long lines, endless paperwork, and bleary-eyed government drones immune to your pleas to be treated with a little courtesy.

So it was with these stereotypes in mind that I drove up the DMV headquarters in Concord. I'm moving into a new apartment this week, and I needed to update the address on my license. I have ten days to notify the DMV, but I was feeling proactive this morning, so I went online to find out how I could go about the arduous process of changing my address.

There is no link to the Change of Address form on the Department of Safety home page; at least none I could find. Nor is there a link on the Division of Motor Vehicles page. So I checked the FAQs link, figuring that this would be a question that would be asked frequently. Given that I already knew where the office was located, knew how to get there, didn't need to call them, nor was seeking employment with the Department of Safety, I concluded that my question was not one of the most frequently asked after all. Yet the good folks at Safety must have realized that I and other like me had other questions on our minds, so they helpfully added one more link, optimistically labeled "more".

And more if that it provided; a cornucopia of curiosity ranging from amusement ride safety to the state sex offender registry. And amidst that list was a link to Motor Vehicles, and from there Driver Licensing, and last one that list of questions, the only question I really cared about; How can I notify the DMV of a change of address?

Heart pounding with anticipation, I clicked the link, and was whisked to the bottom of that very page, where I was given the opportunity to download a RECORD CHANGE REQUEST as a PDF.

Praise be, this was exactly what I needed. I filled out the form and was prepared to send it back, only to find out that the DMV doesn't accept these document electronically. They put the form online, but then you have to print it out and put in the mail. Someone should really tell them that the Internet is not best used for one-way communication.

I was getting ready to print out the form and look for a stamp when I realized that I had an appointment that afternoon at the State Office Park in Concord. I could walk into the DMV myself and have an personal horror story to exceed the poor design of the state's web page.

So, it was with expectations set low that I walked into the Steve Merrill Building on Hazen Drive at 3:30 Monday afternoon. The relatively new building has a two-stage waiting area. There's an information desk up front, and then you take your paperwork down the hall to the main waiting area to get your license issued or renewed. I noticed that the information desk had blank copies of the very form I had downloaded in the morning. So I started to fill one out while the staff at the desk helped the two people ahead of me in line. Before I had completed the short one-page form, both folks ahead of me had been helped, and I was the only one waiting. A very polite gentlemen looked over my form, and double-checked to make sure I was filling in the necessary boxes, but not duplicating information that didn't need to be changed.

When I finished a few seconds later, he whisked the paperwork away, asked for license, and said, "Let me put that into the computer right now." A minute later, he was done, and he handed my license back. I didn't need to go down the hall. I didn't need to wait in line. And I didn't need to wait two weeks to confirm that the DMV has actually entered by change of address into the system.

I walked out of the Steve Merrill Building within five minutes of walking in, and accomplished everything I needed to do. Not only did the staff exceed my expectations for the DMV. They would have exceeded my expectations for a private business.

Now I've waited in some long lines. I've dealt with some state employees who seemed more interested in their next break than in helping me out. But yesterday, they were the model of courtesy and efficiency. State employees are on the whole just as friendly and hard-working as the rest of us. And they can be as lazy and surly as the rest of us. There is nothing in working for the state or federal government that draws better or worse people to those jobs. I've done both.

So when we report on the inefficiency of government, don't take it as an attack of state or federal employees. Most of them try to do a good job. But they work in a system that provides far to little positive feedback when they do; and far too little negative feedback when they don't.

The people who served me yesterday did an outstanding job, and I'm happy to provide a little positive feedback. Now, if we can just get that website working just as well...

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