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Thoughts after a DMV visit

From Linda Watkins, after a visit to the Division of Motor Vehicles . . .

I used to work for state government. I worked in a couple of departments as well as for one statewide elected official. I am not one of those people who believes that all government workers are stupid, lazy, or just putting in their time until they can retire and take advantage of the public retirement system. I also do believe that there are good reasons for some government regulations and requirements. I’m not one of these folks who thinks we’re sinking into a socialist morass, nor that we need to “get government out of our lives.”

In other words, when I walk into a government office, I enter with the assumption that these are nice people who are doing a necessary, if sometimes difficult job and in these days of economic shortage, doing it under a great deal of stress and pressure. Which makes my experience the last two days with the Oregon DMV all the more unnerving.

The whole thing started last Saturday when my purse was stolen from my closed, locked car in the middle of the day in a busy parking lot in a Northern California city park. Of course my driver’s license and ATM cards were not recovered. I’ve spent the last six days reconstructing my life, to include police reports, bank account closings and openings, insurance claims, car repairs, and of course replacing that Rosetta Stone of modern day life: my driver’s license.

Prior to going down to the DMV yesterday morning, my husband called to make sure of what identification would be needed. He was told that a passport and birth certificate were great, and a piece of i.d. that contained my address, such as a W-2 form or tax return. No mention was made of any other necessary identification. Since we’d received this information from DMV over the phone, we assumed they knew what they were talking about, and that’s what I took with me. Next time, I’ll check the website which is much more specific: Every time you visit a DMV office to conduct business regarding a driver license, driver permit or identification card, you are required to bring proof of your current full legal name, your legal presence in the U.S., your identity, your date of birth, and your Social Security Number (SSN). Also, if your address has changed since you were last issued a card, you will also need to bring proof of your current Oregon residence address. All documents being presented as proof must be original or certified copies from the issuing agency.

And just to make you feel better about Big Brother keeping an eye on you, there’s this little tidbit:

Why is DMV collecting SSNs?
The Federal Welfare Reform Act includes the requirement that each state collect the Social Security Numbers of all drivers to assist in the enforcement of child support laws.

DMV will verify numbers with the Social Security Administration (SSA). If the SSN does not match the SSA record, the customer will be required to resolve the issue prior to DMV issuing, renewing or replacing a driver license, driver permit or identification card.

I have to admit I was surprised that they wanted more than a passport, since in order to get that document, all of the other pieces of identification DMV requires have to be presented, along with a valid driver’s license, which in turn requires all of the information DMV is once again requiring. It’s making me dizzy just trying to construct the circle….

My first clue that the process was not going to go well was when I was called to the counter and the clerk blasted me for not remembering my driver’s license number. In the 42 years I’ve had a driver’s license, I’ve never memorized my DL number — apparently there are people out there who do so, but usually when I’m asked for my driver’s license it’s because photo identification is required and the clerk requesting it is the one who takes down the number. However, the DMV clerk informed me that “everyone remembers their license number,” and her implication was that I was obviously a piece of trash because not only had I allowed my license to be stolen, but I couldn’t even remember the number.

She then flipped through my presented identification and informed me that none of this was any good without my Social Security card or a piece of official paperwork with my name and SSN — such as a W-2 or tax return form. When I questioned this, particularly since that was not what we’d been told earlier over the phone, the clerk became aggressive — told me it wasn’t her fault I’d had my license stolen and I would just have to go home and get that last piece of identification. It was an unpleasant encounter, and I left feeling like I’d been ambushed in a back alley.

But I dug up the additional information and trotted down to the DMV this morning where I got a different clerk with a much better attitude who didn’t hold it against me that I didn’t have my license number memorized and who actually seemed to think that the identification requirements were overkill. What stunned me again was when I was told that I’d have to wait for another clerk to take my photo for the license since the clerks who do the initial paperwork are not allowed to also perform the final steps…..and I would need to once again present my identification. This was with a wait period of about three minutes.

So in order to get my driver’s license replaced, I needed: a passport (for which I’d already had to present my certified birth certificate, ssn, and driver’s license), an certified birth certificate, and at least one “official” piece of paper containing my name and social security number. Two people had to inspect these pieces of identification independently within a five-minute time frame, and then I was issued a temporary license. Five years ago when I got my first Oregon driver’s license I showed a billing envelope with my new address, handed them my old driver’s license, and I walked out of the DMV office with my permanent license — in one visit, dealing with one clerk.

And for all of this, I have to thank the howling, frothing-at-the-mouth, anti-government faction that is constantly whining about getting government out of our lives and reducing the size of government. These are also the people who have been raising such an outcry over making sure that anyone and everyone who needs a driver’s license is NOT an illegal immigrant that the DMV has had to institute a set of identification and procedural requirements that rival anything you would have found in Cold War Communist countries or any of today’s third world countries.

Last year I visited Costa Rica and when departing at the San Jose airport my passport and boarding pass had to be presented about seven times before I boarded the airplane home. But the folks who did the checking were faster, more polite and more efficient than the folks at the Oregon DMV, and they were better informed and able to tell me what I would need and when.

So for those folks who are howling about the U.S. becoming a socialist bureaucracy — thanks a bunch. With your help and encouragement we’re rapidly approaching the paperwork portion of that concept; and we couldn’t have done it without you.

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One Comment

  1. fortboise fortboise September 18, 2009

    Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat having a bad day. I’m thinking of Marge Simpsons’ sisters who also work at the DMV…

    I’m the same as you in the preamble, Linda. I hope for the best and expect reasonably competent service when I have to visit a government office. And much of the time, that’s what I get.

    My last episode at an Idaho DMV office went a lot smoother than what you describe… but it was several years ago. Turns out the relative I was helping get her D.L. has a doppelganger in the state — same first, last and middle name, and SAME BIRTHDATE (including the year).

    Still an all, apart from a little extra wait and then a chat with a detective, there was nothing like the unpleasantness you describe.

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