Our Opinion: Embattled RMV has its work cut out
Thomas Bowes, the head of the Merit Rating Board of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, was fired earlier this week in the fallout resulting from the agency's failure to suspend driver's licenses based on out-of-state infractions. If the RMV had done its job, a tragedy in New Hampshire that cost seven lives may have been prevented. Heads were inevitably going to roll, but more importantly measures must be taken to prevent this kind of indefensible breakdown in procedure and oversight from occurring again.
Mr. Bowes' attorney asserts that his client is a "scapegoat," but it is difficult to see how he meets that definition, which applies to someone who receives blame for reasons of expediency. Mr. Bowes department is the final RMV office in the chain tasked with monitoring out-of-state license infractions. He was the last line of defense in a failed process, not a victim of political retribution. Mr. Bowes was fired in the first meeting of the Merit Rating Board since that body
hired him in 2016. What was the board doing in the interim as RMV checks and balances were breaking down?
Grant Thornton, the private firm hired by the state Department of Transportation to conduct an internal audit of the RMV in the wake of the tragedy, found that the Merit Board had "effectively ceased" looking at any written notifications of driving convictions in other states because of "difficulty adopting" an upgraded computer system. The RMV is a cash cow for the state, raking in money for licenses, registrations and various infractions. Beacon Hill could not in turn assure that the RMV had enough funding to hire capable technical people to install and run its computers? Or is there another explanation? This is the kind of boondoggle that gives government a bad name, and taxpayers should be rightly infuriated.
It's also infuriating to consider that this mess would still not have come to light if not for the accident on June 23 in New Hampshire in which seven motorcyclists were killed and three others, including a Dalton man, gravely injured when they were struck by a truck. Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, who has been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide, had been arrested in May in Connecticut for allegedly operating under the influence and refusing a chemical test. Electronic and written notification about the arrest from Connecticut went unnoticed by the Massachusetts RMV, which should have suspended the truck driver's Massachusetts license upon receiving that notification. Registrar Erin Deveney resigned, and a review by interim Registrar Jamey Tesler found that tens of thousands of out-of-state license notices for a variety of offenses had been piled up in the Quincy warehouse over a period of 16 months.
Sixteen months of ignoring records is bad enough, but the preliminary report from Grant Thornton noted that 20 unopened boxes of out-of-state notifications dating back to 2008 were uncovered. Confusing labeling of boxes contributed to the failure to process them efficiently. The internal audit described the RMV as a "risk management nightmare" with poorly defined and executed lines of defense to protect against potential disasters.
The question asked above about the Merit Rating Board's absence could be asked of others. Could not an audit by the office of State Auditor Suzanne Bump have uncovered these failings? While the internal audit report faults Ms. Deveney for failing to notify MassDOT officials of the out-of-state notifications backlog, Ms. Deveney claims that Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollock gave her the discretion to determine if notification was necessary. It appears that too much discretion was provided.
The complete internal audit will be released Sept. 13, which we expect will include recommendations for systemic improvements. Taxpayers and the families of those impacted by the New Hampshire accident should expect a full accounting followed by major reform efforts from the office of Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature.
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