New report reveals what went wrong with MNLARS

The state's licensing and vehicle registration system has been beset by problems.
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The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor office has released a report into the failures that blighted the rollout of the licensing and vehicle registration system known as MNLARS.

The report says that more than $100 million of funding over nine years leading up to its 2017 release "should have been sufficient to successfully complete this project."

Instead, when it eventually went live in July 2017, customers were hit with delays in the processing of license tabs, registration renewals, and title applications.

By the start of December that year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety had a backlog of around 380,000 title applications.

A year ago the DPS and Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) requested an extra $43 million to solve the problem from the Legislature, but instead got just under $10 million to work on fixes.

The problems "started early" in the process, namely when the state contracted Hewlett Packard to build the system only to scrap the contract in 2014 as managers were unsatisfied with the work. The auditor's report said the contract ended with the state having "little to show for several years of work."

Both the DPS and MNIT then tried to build the system in-house using a mixture of state and private employees, but leadership "did not take sufficient steps to ensure that this large and risky project would succeed."

Ultimately, DPS and MNIT were to blame for the system's failures for a number of reasons, including failing to provide adequate oversight of the project, making decisions about the system's "scope and functionality" that were "not sufficiently transparent," and failing to include "some critical stakeholders" in the leadership process.

"Project officials did not enforce proper code development practices, and there was insufficient testing of the software," it also added.

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'Troubling ... but not surprising'

The report also refers to a couple of staffers by name, MNLARS managers Paul Meekin and Susan Rohde, who it says shoulder some of the blame for the failures during the attempt to complete the system in-house.

Staffers also said it was a mistake to keep to the 2017 timeline for a release date, given that they had only started working on the in-house version of the new system in 2015.

Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), chair of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, said Thursday: "I find the legislative audit to be troubling, frustrating, but not altogether surprising.

"From the beginning, the state of Minnesota was not equipped to handle a project of this scale and, even when confronted with that reality, state officials kept the project moving toward release.

"The audit makes clear where the problems lie: ineffective leadership and state agencies lacking the proper oversight, guidance, and technical ability for such a massive project."

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