Long lines in public, but NC had driver’s license office for state employees
The state Division of Motor Vehicles ran an invitation-only driver’s license bureau for state employees earlier this year as lines grew and wait times ran into hours at public locations around the state.
DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup defended the practice Tuesday, likening it to mobile units that the agency sends to large businesses to serve private-sector employees on-site. He said the bureau, located at DMV headquarters in Raleigh, was open to rank-and-file state employees. DMV spokespeople said invites went out via email to workers at 10 state agencies.
They couldn’t immediately say how many people were invited to make an appointment at the bureau, but a spokeswoman estimated it was tens of thousands. The DMV’s communications office sent invites to communications and human resources offices at other state agencies and asked them to forward the invitations, according to Patrice Bethea, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
The facility operated from January to August, and 411 state employees received the new REAL ID there, according to division numbers. This is the new, more stringent, form of identification the federal government is moving toward and one of the main reasons DMV officials say North Carolinians have seen such long lines at driver’s license offices this summer.
The office’s existence was first reported by WBTV in Charlotte, which referred to it as a “secret office” and said DMV officials were loathe to discuss it.
“It’s not a secret,” Jessup told WRAL News Tuesday. “That’s not a secret, if you send it by email.”
The office itself is called the “model office.” It’s a mock-up of a regular DMV licensing bureau with working equipment. It is used, among other things, for training.
It was open to state employees, by appointment, for five days a month, three hours a day from January to March, the division said. From April through August, the office was open three days a month, again for three hours a day.
“It’s another way that we try to get individuals REAL ID’s.” Jessup said. “We’re trying to go to where people have the need. ... It’s not something we are hiding.”
The practice has been suspended, but may start back up, he said. The division has also stopped sending mobile offices to businesses for now because it wants more staff free to work in permanent offices, a DMV spokesman said.
The DMV has 113 driver’s license offices around the state and about 1,400 employees. The DMV also provided a list of about 100 locations that mobile REAL ID units have visited, including Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, companies such as Cisco Systems and SAS Institute and various state prisons.
The mobile units, along with the headquarters location for state employees, reduce the number of people visiting regular DMV offices, officials said, freeing up space for others.
As criticism mounted over long lines this summer, the DMV announced plans to shift employees to busier offices and to hire 114 new people, partly in an effort to fill 80 division vacancies. Jessup said 16 new examiners will complete their training Wednesday, and the division has offers out to another 36 people.
He said the average examiner salary is about $36,000, making it difficult to find employees in some markets.
“North Carolina has a strong economy right now,” he said. “It’s a competitive market.”
The DMV is also close to offering online appointments to get a driver’s license, something Jessup said he hopes to roll out in months. Currently people have to call to get an appointment or show up in person and wait in line.
Between May 2017, when the state began offering REAL ID, and July 31 of this year, North Carolina issued more than 619,500 REAL IDs. The DMV’s goal is to issue about 4 million of them before an October 2020 federal deadline.
At that point, REAL ID, or a passport or other acceptable ID, will be required to fly.
To hit that mark, the state will have to increase its pace, issuing an average of 135,000 REAL IDs a month, more than double the largest month the DMV has seen so far. That was last month, when the agency issued 61,465 REAL IDs.
“You’re going to get more people (coming to driver’s license offices),” Jessup said. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t be more prepared as we get closer to that deadline. ... We’re at the beginning of the cycle.”