News: CJ Exclusives

Audit Finds Driver License Flaws

State's requirements found less stringent than most other states

Continuing work began by his Democratic predecessor, Republican State Auditor Les Merritt released a report Tuesday that found several security lapses in North Carolina’s issuance of driver’s licenses.

The review of the program, administered by the Division of Motor Vehicles, was motivated after last year’s audit of the state’s use of federal funds for homeland security and bioterrorism. Then-Auditor Ralph Campbell released that report last October.

“In looking at the big picture, our guys noted there were some problems with our driver’s license procedures and thought it was worth a closer look,” said Dennis Patterson, a spokesman for Merritt, who also served in the same capacity for Campbell.

The audit found that North Carolina’s driver’s licensing requirements are not as stringent as most other states.

“Having less-restrictive requirements appears to encourage individuals from other states to travel to North Carolina to obtain a driver’s license,” the audit said.

Auditors sought to determine whether DMV had adequate procedures in place to make sure only “qualified applicants” received driver’s licenses, and whether rules were consistently enforced in all DMV licensing offices. The report cited heightened concern over access to state-issued identification after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, because “some of the terrorists obtained state driver’s licenses and, aided by them, lived unnoticed while preparing their attack.”

Within a year of the attacks more than 30 states had strengthened their licensing issuance procedures. In May 2005 President Bush signed the REAL ID act, which sets licensing standards for all 50 states, which they all must comply with at their own expense.

The auditor’s staff found that while some modifications to North Carolina policy for proving identity and residency were tightened, the fact that the state still accepts a Taxpayer Identification Number in lieu of a Social Security number is less restrictive than in most other states. Obtaining a TIN is considered to be relatively easy, and only seven other states and the District of Columbia allow it to be used for identification purposes to obtain driver’s licenses.

The report also said DMV is vulnerable to fraud because any person who speaks both English and a foreign language is permitted to interpret for a non-English speaking applicant. Auditors were concerned that an unknowing DMV officer might not understand whether the interpreter was providing test answers for an applicant.

They also expressed concern about the 19 one-person DMV offices that operate across the state.

“These offices pose significant security risks, both to the examiners and to safeguarding the critical supplies and equipment required to increase the security of the license itself,” auditors reported.

The report recommended that the one-person offices be eliminated, in favor of operating three new mobile units that could be purchased for $585,000.

Auditors also found that many DMV offices were working with, and supplying to applicants, outdated information and materials. They said many DMV examiners do not have access to e-mail or the Internet, and therefore rely on receiving information “manually through the chain of command.” During the course of their review, audit staff visited 30 of DMV’s 127 field offices, and found that 29 of them were using an outdated Examiner’s Manual.

In response to Merritt’s report, Department of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said he is pursuing changes in law to tighten documentation requirements for receiving a driver’s license. He said the REAL ID law will force many of the recommended changes, and “will require a virtual rewrite of our mainframe computer system.” Tippett also said that the new document verification procedures will demand “a labor-intensive process that will require significant staff and equipment to accomplish.”

He said his department was working with the General Assembly to draft legislation to fulfill the new federal mandates.

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected].