Stopping MVA's Fake License Mill

March 04, 1992

Strange goings-on continue at the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

On the one hand, published reports suggest that only a single employee has been suspended for issuing fraudulent licenses (and even she has been granted immunity for cooperation in the probe). On the other hand, fake drivers'licenses are such a problem that the MVA was forced to halt for up to 90 days the issuance of photo IDs in lieu of driver's licenses altogether until a better system can be developed.

The MVA has been a contradictory operation for the past five years. Blamed for bureaucratic callousness by the Schaefer administration, the MVA has tried so hard to become user-friendly that the safeguards it successfully used in prior years were discarded. Even now it cannot decide what it wants to be. The agency says it wants a more fool-proof system. But when a belligerent applicant says she will not give her Social Security number to the MVA, the bureaucracy swallows its pride and drops that requirement.

In the wake of reports of widespread irregularities, the Motor Vehicle Administration must make up its mind: It can either be a strict regulatory agency that goes by the book or a happy-go-lucky carnival operator selling bogus documents to those willing to pay off corrupt workers.

Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer is proposing that the MVA spend $200,000 for a one-year study on cutting-edge technology to solve the problems. Among options would be buying a $20 million digital imaging computer system that could store not only driver's license information but also a license holder's photograph, fingerprints and signature.

Yet even this high-tech gadget won't erase the problem. The current controversy was not caused by out-of-date technology but by workers issuing duplicate driver's licenses to applicants whose chronological, racial and physical characteristics were different from those of the license's original holders. Surely such corrupt or negligent workers could find ways to trick even the most sophisticated computers.

Fraud of this nature may never be totally prevented. The MVA's short-term priority must be to get rid of its "bad apples." Its long-term priority must be to study how other states have averted similar scandals. Fixing the "human" element could be the best way to put an end to the Motor Vehicle Administration's current woes.

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