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Newsom Appoints GovOps' Batjer to Head DMV Strike Force

Gov. Gavin Newsom has put Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer in charge of an overhaul of California's "chronically mismanaged" Department of Motor Vehicles, and he also wants the state Department of Finance to accelerate its performance audit of the DMV.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday appointed Government Operations Agency Secretary Marybel Batjer to oversee an overhaul of California's "chronically mismanaged" Department of Motor Vehicles, whose longtime director, Jean Shiomoto, announced her retirement last month after six years in the top job.

The DMV has been beset by high-profile technological and staff problems that have resulted in botched voter registrations, long wait times for customers and problems meeting benchmarks with the Real ID program.

Though the Legislature rejected measures calling for a performance audit of the beleaguered department, former Gov. Jerry Brown ordered the state Department of Finance to conduct just such an audit — and Newsom on Wednesday accelerated its timetable, imposing a 30-day deadline for preliminary findings.

"By any metric," Newsom said in a statement Wednesday, "California DMV has been chronically mismanaged and failed in its fundamental mission to the state customers it serves and the state workers it employs. It's time for a reinvention, and I'm grateful to Secretary Batjer for agreeing to take on this tremendous responsibility on behalf of California taxpayers."

One of the most recent and high-profile DMV debacles has been implementation of the Motor Voter program, which is supposed to automatically register DMV customers to vote when they get their driver's licenses. That program has been beset by technological and staff errors, causing mistakes in some 23,000 voter registrations and raising questions about whether non-citizens had been allowed to vote in last June's primaries. 

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has acknowledged that his office is investigating, and he has repeatedly berated Shiomoto for the agency's failures.

Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican, in October called for the resignations of Shiomoto and of state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong, whose California Department of Technology was also called out by Padilla.  

Also Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted California a three-month reprieve for its troubled Real ID program. The state's original deadline to comply with the 2005 federal law would have passed today, potentially forcing airline travelers to show a passport or military ID to board a commercial flight. Now, passengers can keep flashing their driver's licenses in airport security lines until April 1.

The Real ID rollout has stumbled along for the past year and is among the things that critics in the Legislature seek to fix.

Brown picked Batjer to head the newly created Government Operations Agency in June 2013, and she oversaw the overhaul of procurement, real estate and human resources. She will retain the job while she heads up the strike team.

She has worked as a vice president of public policy and corporate social responsibility for Caesars Entertainment Inc. and was Cabinet secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and chief of staff to former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. She has also served as undersecretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and as Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The San Francisco Chronicle contributed to this report.

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.