July 23, 2014

House panel holds day one of testimony about Real ID compliance

The House Bipartisan Committee on Privacy Protection has asked whether the Department of Revenue has moved closer to complying with the federal Real ID Act, after a 2009 Missouri law barred compliance. The Committee was appointed to dig into whether the Department is mishandling personal information from Missouri license applicants.

Much of its hearing Tuesday focused on a letter from Department Director Alana Barragan-Scott to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano outlining 39 things that a state must do to comply with Real ID.

Osage County Sheriff Michael Dixon tells the Department’s head of driver’s licensing, Jackie Benboom, that letter raises doubts about whether the Department has in fact done nothing to comply.

“Any average person that picked up this document and read it would have believed that the Department of Revenue was clearly, in fact, complying with Real ID.”

Under oath, Benboom says that document was part of her agency’s effort to tell the federal government Missourians shouldn’t have to endure extra security checks just because Missouri was not Real ID compliant.

“What the federal government has said is that Missouri citizens … would have to have a second check when you are flying on an airplane or if you would go into [a federal government office] or like, the nuclear plant, on federal land.”

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan asked Benboom about a 2011 letter she sent to Hal Tyson, a Program Management Specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, applying for an extension of a Fiscal Year 2008 REAL ID Demonstration Grant.

In that letter she says, “Missouri currently has legislation enacted that generally prohibits participation in REAL ID; however, over the past decade, Missouri has worked hard to implement a program for issuing driver licenses and identification cards with security standards consistent with the standards of the REAL ID Act.”

Jordan says it appears that she was saying Missouri would comply with Real ID in order to receive the grant money but Benboom disagrees.

“It may appear, but that’s not what we were doing.’

Jordan tells her, “Perception is reality and you can say ‘It’s not so,’ as many times as you want to, but it appears that this is a duck and you’re trying to tell us it’s a goose.”

Benboom and committee members disagreed whether Missouri has become more compliant with Real ID, or whether the state simply has a system that is comparable.

The Committee will take more testimony on Thursday. While it is meeting, House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) will conduct a conference call to discuss legal actions being prepared to compel officials in Governor Jay Nixon’s administration to fully cooperate with an investigation into the Department of Revenue’s actions. The Committee voted to subpoena several members of the Nixon Administration to appear and testify. They are Doug Nelson, Kristy Manning, Peter Lyskowski, Jeff Harris and Chris Pieper as well as former Revenue Department director Alana Barragan-Scott.

 

 

House Committee raises legal question about fee office awards process

An informal House Committee hearing has raised a question of whether the Department of Revenue’s fee office bidding process has an illegal flaw.

The Department of Revenue was represented at the informal hearing by (from left to right) Administrator Cathy Herigon, Division Director Jackie Bemboom, registered lobbyist Jay Atkins and Deputy Director John Mollenkamp.

The Department uses a competitive bidding process that replaced the earlier “patronage” system, under which state license offices were generally awarded by governors to political allies. The new process has been phased in beginning with the administration of Governor Matt Blunt (R) and continuing with current Governor Jay Nixon (D).

The Director of the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division, Jackie Bemboom, explains how under the new process, requests for proposal change from fee office to fee office.

“We start with a standard (request for proposal) and we have what we call ‘variables,’ that will be inserted into the RFP, basically based upon transaction volume. An office that processes 10,000 transactions in a year will have different variables than an office that processes 100,000 transactions in a year.”

The Department then implements the rules of the Office of Administration’s Division of Purchasing for the bidding process.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) says having that standard request for proposal could constitute having a rule that, under state law, must be formalized. Until it is, the Committee questions whether the state could be open to lawsuits from those who have lost bids on fee offices.

Chairwoman, Representative Sue Allen (R-Town and Country) says, “We’ve had circumstances regarding other types of bids that there have been lawsuits, so why wouldn’t you have an expectation that something like that could happen with the fee offices?”

Barnes says that is a concern, but says the use of the Office of Administration Rules could be enough to satisfy state law.

“The Department of Revenue might not have to promulgate (the rules) on its own.”

Recent reviews by the State Auditor’s Office of several fee offices and of the award process have not delved into the question of whether the procedure should be formalized as a matter of state law.

The Committee is urging the Department to formalize that standard request for proposal not just due to possible legal concerns, but also to keep old patronage practices from resurfacing.

Barnes says, “I think what the Department has done is to create a de facto rule that they have not put in writing which leaves open the possibility of changing criteria throughout the process for each individual bidding opportunity, which also leaves open the opportunity to ensure that one bidder or another wins with respect to those bidding opportunities.” He adds, “(The Committee is) not alleging that in fact has happened, but that the statutes, without a rule in writing, are open to that happening.”

The Committee met informally due to the lack of a quorum. Speaking for the Department were its Deputy Director, John Mollenkamp, a registered lobbyist for the Department, Jay Atkins, Bemboom, and Administrator Cathy Herigon. Several committee members expressed frustration that the four could not answer policy questions, and that Director, Alana M. Barragán-Scott, was not present.

Allen says this meeting was the third the Director refused to attend.

“We just want to know that we are given full disclosure of anything we ask, and presence or lack of presence could be an indicator that somebody doesn’t want to answer questions.”

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) notes, the Committee has praised the work of the Department for improving over the old patronage system.

“Everybody acknowledges that this administration has made progress with the fee offices.” He says what the Committee wants to know is, “How can that become formalized, and is there more progress that could be made? Nobody’s throwing rocks here.”

Barnes says Barragán-Scott needs to be at the Committee’s next hearing in December.

“If she doesn’t show up, I’m going to ask the chair to ask the Speaker (of the House) to subpoena her to show up at another meeting, so let’s be abundantly clear. She has to show up, or she will be subpoenaed to show up.”

A call to the Department of Revenue for further comment was not returned.