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EDITORIAL: DMV computer upgrade runs into more snags

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has been shining on state taxpayers for years regarding an effort to upgrade its computer system. And the money pit just keeps getting deeper.

In March, DMV officials told lawmakers that a $125 million project to expand online services was on budget and on target for a September 2026 completion. Weeks later, in April, agency reps sang a different song, informing the Interim Finance Committee that the revamp would be delayed until 2029 and would cost an extra $300 million.

In the private sector, this might get somebody fired. But in the world of government — where other people’s money is in large supply — this is business as usual. DMV officials even went through the looking glass to claim that words can mean anything they want them to mean.

“This isn’t a delay,” agency spokesman Sean Sever told the Review-Journal in an email. “We just thought we could roll off our contractors in 2026, leaving DMV IT staff to continue enhancements to our new system. … We just need the support for a longer period.”

Three years late? It depends on what the definition of “delay” is.

Lawmakers weren’t happy. Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-Las Vegas, noted the DMV over the course of weeks had provided “drastically different” information to lawmakers. Assemblyman Howard Watts, D-Las Vegas, expressed dismay: “Frankly, it’s very, very surprising to me.”

But why would any of this be shocking? The agency’s computer upgrade has been plagued by problems for years. First implemented in 2015 and funded in part through an illegally imposed tax on transactions, progress was nonexistent. A 2018 state audit found that the contractor had bungled along and spent nearly $30 million with nothing to show for it. A lawsuit alleged that corruption was rampant. Lawmakers finally pulled the plug.

Round two began in 2021 with a new contractor and a timeline of four years. The 2023 Legislature approved $73 million for the upgrade. Now we learn that the cost could soar to $425 million as the project potentially bleeds into the next decade.

The DMV has made incremental service upgrades in recent years, making it more convenient for “customers.” The agency’s ultimate goal of reducing waits by allowing taxpayers to carry out the majority of DMV transactions online is worthwhile. But where is the accountability for cost overruns, blown cash and dead ends?

The sorry saga of the DMV’s computer upgrade doesn’t provide Nevada taxpayers with any confidence that state government workers are held to a high standard when it comes to performance.

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