Top Job for Minnesota's New IT Chief? Fix Vehicle System

Top Job for Minnesota's New IT Chief? Fix Vehicle System Photo: KSTP

January 24, 2018 07:15 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton named a new top official to take over Minnesota's information technology agency on Wednesday, and she has a clear mandate: fix the state's new computer system for license plates and tabs after its bungled rollout last summer.

Brigadier Gen. Johanna Clyborne, a top leader in Minnesota's National Guard, will take over as commissioner of Minnesota Information Technology Services on Feb. 2. Her predecessor, Tom Baden, announced his retirement last month, citing health reasons.

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But Baden's announcement came amid a controversy surrounding MNLARS, the new system launched in July to replace a 30-year-old platform for processing license plate and tab registrations. Car dealerships and registrars across the state have reported enormous backlogs and long delays in processing basic transactions, triggering cries from top Republicans that Dayton's administration should be held accountable for the state's latest technological failure.

RELATED: Senate Committee Expresses Frustration at Pace of MNLARS Fixes

Clyborne will also be making a wish list for cybersecurity upgrades across state government and ensuring the state upgrades its IDs in time to meet new federal Real ID standards for boarding domestic flights this fall. But she said her top priority was getting MNLARS on track.

"We will not rest until we get this project done right," Clyborne said. "Minnesotans, they deserve better."

MNLARS launched this summer, with a final price tag of $93 million — double its initial estimate — and years behind the original schedule. But the problems continued after its official start, as software glitches swamped deputy registrar offices and stymied car dealerships trying to secure license plates for new customers, requiring workarounds.

RELATED: No Clear Answer Yet as to When MNLARS Issues May Be Fixed

State officials last week said they had reduced the backlog of transactions by 100,000, but nearly 270,000 license and tab registrations or renewals remained unprocessed.

Dayton said he chose Clyborne to shepherd the needed improvements to MNLARS due to her leadership and management — Clyborne serves as director of the Joint Staff for the Minnesota National Guard. While Clyborne wasn't prepared to lay out a plan to fix the ailing system — the agency is slated to deliver its roadmap to the Legislature next week — she said her experience will help.

"I think I have something to add that can help pull this together," she said.

RELATED: Lawmakers Look Into MNLARS Issues

Clyborne will maintain her role with the National Guard and plans to continue working part-time at her private law firm.

It's not the state's first troubled rollout of a computer system. The 2013 launch of MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance exchange, was plagued with website crashes and long hold times at its call center.

Dayton said he's learned the state shouldn't launch such massive computer systems all at once but should opt for a rollout in stages to discover problems.

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