Investigative Unit: State spends millions for system, nothing to show for it
BATON ROUGE - The WBRZ Investigative Unit uncovered millions of dollars worth of your tax money spent on a system to improve your experience at the Office of Motor Vehicles, but to this day that system does not exist.
Our math indicates at least $30 million dollars was spent on the system dubbed the "Next Generation of Motor Vehicles," or "NGMV." It was supposed to make your life easier when you went there to renew licenses and vehicle registration, but years into the project, it was abandoned.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit has been combing over records for months. What we found in the documents shows a series of bad record keeping and a lack of clarity on just how much the state spent for a system that today it doesn't have.
If you've been to the OMV recently, it's easy to find people getting restless. Headphones stuck in ears, arms folded and people just waiting to be served indicate the frustration people face at the OMV.
"It's an unnecessary headache," Driver Tanner Comeaux said.
"When I come to the DMV, I plan on being here at least two hours," Yancey Duncan said.
"I couldn't even get my situation finished. I have to come back," Dyquynchia Johnese said.
An ambitious idea and system the state was trying to implement over the past ten years was supposed to ease the headaches at the DMV. The Next Generation of Motor Vehicles was supposed to be the answer.
Nearly a decade worth of contracts totaling nearly $66 million dollars show "NGMV" was supposed to create one system, allowing easy access for drivers to renew licenses and vehicle registration. A company from Pennsylvania called "Unisys" was awarded the contract.
The system "Unisys" was supposed to provide could tell workers if there were flags or suspensions on licenses, and even whether or not the customer was about to write a hot check.
"This was a project motor vehicles had been working on for a number of years when I inherited it in 2008," State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson said.
Years into the project and tens of millions spent, there was a problem linking the systems together.
State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson soon realized nothing was going to result from the ambitious system once planned. He began looking to exercise the state's "termination" clause in the contract.
"We were well into it and there was nothing to show for it, so I was not going to spend another dollar on a project that was not producing any results," Edmonson said.
In 2008, Edmonson ditched the project. But some seven years later, this case is still tied up in court as Unisys claims the state owes it nearly $8 million for work the company performed.
Bad record keeping makes it impossible to know the exact amount the state paid Unisys for the non-existent system.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit obtained a thick pile of contracts and invoices through a public records request. The documents show the state paid at least $30 million on the system during a five year period, but that may not be the full amount. Any invoices prior to 2006 could not be located, according to the Office of Motor Vehicles.
"This is one perfect example, $30 million thrown in the dirt," State Treasurer John Kennedy said. "Taxpayers worked hard for it. It's inexcusable and somebody ought to be fired."
Kennedy is fuming. He was over the State's financial books when the contract was signed and cancelled. However, he did not know the extent of just how much was paid until the Investigative Unit brought it to his attention.
"This is why we are out of money," Kennedy said. "It's not because we don't have enough money. It's because we waste our money."
Most of the people tied to the project retired. All of the signed invoices indicate some pieces of the contract were completed. A handful of them were signed by an employee who currently works at "OMV" named Staci Hoyt. One totaled more than a quarter of a million dollars.
We requested an interview with Hoyt but were told no. We also requested an interview with anyone at OMV to talk about this but that request was also refused since it's pending litigation. Court records show there are no court dates currently set.
"That $30 million didn't just fall from heaven," Kennedy said. "We thank heaven for it, but it came out of people's pockets. This is inexcusable."
The lack of answers from an agency responsible for spending millions of dollars of your tax money has people like Kennedy calling for an overhaul of the Office of Motor Vehicles.
"OMV is a mess," Kennedy said. "Anybody who has gone to get a license renewed or deal with OMV, what a horrible experience it is. We waited five hours. I could grow a beard while I was waiting."
If you ask people familiar with that wait, they'll echo those sentiments.
"I shouldn't have to come to the DMV, spend four hours," Comeaux said. "I don't understand that. I have a job to do like everyone else."
"They need to get more organized," Johnese said.
With one failed attempt in getting a system to ease headaches, it's unclear if the state will try for a round two.
Leaders at the Office of Motor Vehicles say, they're not sure if they will go after Unisys for the $30 million the state paid the company already. Again, Unisys claims it is owed $8 million for work it performed. Insiders at OMV tell us computers and other bits of technology were purchased to make this system work, but most of it had to be auctioned off as it sat unused and obsolete.
We reached out to Unisys for a statement on tonight's story. The company declined.