A license to stall

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Computer issues related to Idaho Transportation Department and its software vendor’s systems shut down Driver’s License offices in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and other areas of the state on Tuesday.

COEUR d'ALENE — If government agencies could hit "escape" on the computer issues at driver's license offices statewide, they'd have one worn-out key.

More computer issues have plagued the Idaho Transportation Department and its software vendor's systems shut down Driver's License offices in Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls and other areas of the state again on Tuesday.

ITD officials hope offices re-open Thursday at the latest. However, a Kootenai County Sheriff's Office press release states that agency is "cautiously optimistic" it could re-open sometime today.

Gov. Butch Otter said he shares the frustration of residents and county sheriff’s offices that issue driver's licenses over the computer saga. A working group is being formed to solve the problem.

"My office will convene a working group comprised of all affected stakeholders, including ITD, the Idaho State Police, the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association and the Idaho Association of Counties to resolve these issues as quickly as possible," Otter said in a written statement.

"In the meantime I would ask the public and everyone else affected to exercise patience with our state, county and local government employees who are doing the best they can with the new system, until the problems can be identified, prioritized and resolved."

Vincent Trimboli, ITD spokesman, said his agency takes responsibility for the saga and is dedicated toward finding a solution.

"It is completely unacceptable for us," he said.

ITD is not severing ties with Gemalto, its software vendor based in the Netherlands, but the state wants to assume more control of its own destiny, Trimboli said.

"When you have a partner, you want to work with them as much as you can, but we've gotten to the point where we need to take this in our own hands and find an Idaho solution to these problems," Trimboli said. "Our patience is running out. We need to find our own solution. We understand the plight and frustration of the sheriffs, citizens as well as the county agents who work at the DMVs.

"We will still need (Gemalto) to create the driver's licenses and send them back to the customer."

Trimboli said the problem has nothing to do with ITD's new system.

"It's that our system is not speaking to the vendor system," he said, referring to the issue as an "outage."

ITD's solution is to eliminate dependency on the real-time communication with its vendor's software.

"It would allow county staff to input customer information in person without having to communicate in real time with our vendor," an ITD press release states. "It will be stored on a server. At the end of the day, information would be provided to the vendor. We believe this will allow county and ITD staff to provide a level of service our citizens and partners deserve."

Idaho is one of just two states — the other is Nebraska — where the county sheriff’s offices are responsible for staffing driver's license offices.

State transportation departments run them in other states.

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger has often said that the sheriff’s offices should get out of the driver's license business.

Wolfinger described the KCSO having to close the local offices on Tuesday — the latest debacle of an agonizing problem over the past 18 months — as "ridiculous."

"There's no sense in our staff getting glares from people coming in," Wolfinger said. "They're as frustrated as the citizens. They want to provide the service, but they can't do anything when the system is not working."

Otter said he shares the concerns voiced by sheriffs and citizens over vendor technology issues and recent software upgrades. Driver's license and other DMV and law enforcement functions have been slowed even after the upgrades were implemented late last year.

"The recent upgrades that ITD installed to replace an outdated 30-year-old mainframe were vital not only for the operational integrity of our system but also to ensure that the private information of our citizens remains safe and secure," Otter said. "However, it is obvious the system is not yet fully functional for a variety of reasons and that is causing problems and frustration around our state."

Wolfinger said it seems the problem has gotten worse in recent weeks, rather than better. The system was also down part of Monday, he said, and offices also had to close in December.

"We've been down more in the past three weeks than we were the past three months," he said. "The system was poorly deployed and it should've been beta tested. It's been utter chaos. There's been a lack of service, lack of planning and a lack of proper implementation."

Wolfinger said about 250 licenses are issued or renewed each day in Kootenai County.

He said the sheriff's office also can't issue concealed weapons permits at the office next to the jail when the state's computers are down. Ten to 20 of those are issued per day.

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