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Outgoing coordinator led DMV through many changes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Division of Motor Vehicles has almost 600 employees and interacts a lot with West Virginia's residents, so its performance often influences the public's perception of state government.

No wonder Joe Miller made excellence in customer service the agency's top priority.

Miller retired as DMV commissioner last week. He had served as commissioner since January 2009, when then-Gov. Joe Manchin appointed him to succeed Joe Cicchirillo. It was Miller's second time in the division's top job. He also served from 1997 to 2001.

During the last four years, Miller and his staff have managed some of the biggest changes in the division's history.

The highest profile change — and the most controversial — came in January 2012, when the division began issuing driver's licenses and identification cards that are compliant with the federal government's tough Real ID Act of 2005.

That law was passed because many of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists had authentic driver's licenses that were fraudulently obtained. The law set out strict requirements for citizens to prove their identity when applying to obtain a new driver's license or to renew a license.

At first, some residents made multiple frustrating trips to a DMV office before they had all of the documentation required. The DMV received numerous complaints. There was a large turnover in some agency staff positions.

But notices posted on the division's website, revised Real ID brochures, some leniency in the federal rules, stories in the media and other efforts eventually turned the tide.

"West Virginia citizens have now accepted the fact Real ID is here," Miller said in a recent interview. "It's not nearly as difficult as it seemed to be. We get about 4,000 calls a week about Real ID to our call center and now 99 percent are asking, 'What documents do I need,' not making a complaint."

The federal Department of Homeland Security recently praised West Virginia for being one of only 13 states to have met the Real ID requirements.

Although Real ID attracted the most attention during Miller's most recent tenure, there were many other major developments at the DMV. They include:

n The development of an electronic insurance verification program. Under state law, all West Virginia vehicle owners are required to have auto insurance. But it has been estimated that one in seven drivers in the state doesn't have insurance and the DMV's paper-based system doesn't provide any quick, easy way to verify whether a motorist is insured.

As DMV Acting Commissioner Steve Dale said last year, "Our mission and our legislative mandate is to establish systems where we can find the uninsured motorists and make them go get insurance because it's not fair to the majority of us who pay our premiums."

The electronic verification program is scheduled to be fully implemented next Jan. 1.

n Development of an electronic commercial driver's licensing program. "You take the test on a computer and it's transferred here to headquarters," Miller said. Drivers' routes are verified using a global positioning system.

"This has eliminated fraud in the issuance of commercial driver's licenses in West Virginia to the point that the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has adopted this system as a national model."

n Digitized license plates, which will soon become the standard for all plates issued by West Virginia. The plates are more legible. They're produced using a different method. The DMV expects digitized plates and related efficiencies to save at least $600,000 a year.

n Replaced regional offices in Martinsburg and Parkersburg.

There also were some big behind-the-scenes changes during Miller's recent tenure:

n In November 2009 a total of 259 DMV employees who had worked in five locations, including the former headquarters at the Capitol complex, moved into new offices at The Shops at Kanawha, formerly known as the Kanawha Mall.

"I didn't want to move because there's something to be said about having your office and organization on the Capitol campus, where you're close to the heartbeat of what's happening, a few steps from the Governor's Office," Miller said.

However, "being able to consolidate offices, that has been a blessing" because it has improved efficiency, he said.

* A state-of-the-art call center was established at the Kanawha City headquarters. "We put state-of-the-art systems in and handle about 12,000 phone calls a week," Miller said. "We answer about 90 percent on the first ring."

* The DMV has been restructured. "We had individual systems that did not talk to each other," Miller said. "We were not modern in our structure."

There have been some bumps in the road. Among them:

* In early 2011, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have raised the fees DMV charges for various products and services by a total of $43 million a year.

Many fees have not been raised for decades. About 12 percent to 13 percent of the fees collected fund the DMV's operations. The lion's share goes to the Road Fund for maintenance of the state's highways. The fund's revenues have not been keeping up with highway costs.

"I can see why fees didn't get increased," Miller said. "It wasn't politically correct" and there wasn't as much pressure on the Road Fund at the time because the fund wasn't hurting as much.

* The state has not yet created a one-stop shop for commercial motor carriers. Miller believes that doing so would attract motor carrier fleets to the state.

Owners currently must deal with the state Public Service Commission, Tax Department, Division of Highways and DMV to get the licenses and permits they need and pay the taxes they owe.

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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