Once troubled DMV system upgrade now ‘on schedule’ and within budget

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Behind the BarLegislature
People sitting in the waiting room at Henderson DMV

For the Nevada DMV, the second time’s the charm.

Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Director Julie Butler told lawmakers during a Wednesday budget hearing that the agency’s effort to upgrade its internal computer system and shift more services online is “on schedule and within budget projections,” with a goal of completing the transition to the new system by September 2026.

She acknowledged that the first effort to upgrade the DMV’s computer system (which runs off a mix of antiquated programming technologies including PowerBuilder and COBOL) had failed in 2018 after numerous issues outlined in a state audit led the agency to drop a contractor even after spending more than $30 million and after “three years had nothing to show for that effort.” 

“You were rightfully frustrated and angry at yet another failed state IT project,” she said Wednesday, adding that the agency had regrouped and restarted the system modernization project last year.

“Through strong oversight and project management, the department is confident we can manage the program scope, schedule and budget to a successful conclusion,” she said.

Butler added that the system upgrade (dubbed the DMV Transformation Effort, or DTE) has a rolling analysis conducted every six weeks focused on analyzing program health and risk, and noted that the “current risk score is at a low level for a program of this magnitude for this point in the program.”

The system upgrade was proposed in 2015, when lawmakers approved a $1 “technology fee” assessed on all transactions from car registration to license renewals to help fund a planned five-year system modernization project. Lawmakers attempted to extend the fee in 2019 in a move later declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, requiring the agency to pay back the $1 fees.

A state audit in 2018 found that a contractor, Tech Mahindra, was months behind schedule and not fulfilling its requirements under the contract, such as providing inadequate staffing levels and missing deadlines for project documentation. Despite spending close to $30 million, the contract was terminated by the state in early 2018, forcing the department to start from scratch. 

Gov. Joe Lombardo’s budget calls for $58.7 million in appropriations to continue work on the computer system upgrade and fund 29 positions to support the project.

Asked if she had concerns about the project timeline, Butler called it an “aggressive schedule” and said that the DMV was entering a critical period of migrating large data sets from the old to new system. She warned that any legislation approved this session could ultimately result in delays, as the agency would need to do a “very careful balancing act” in order to comply with new laws while relying on a system that it is trying to move away from.

“We will never finish this project if we have to keep going back and modifying the old system,” she said. “And we can't move our data until everything is frozen in that old system, and we take a snapshot in time and then populate that in the cloud. We can't do that if we're implementing legislation that comes out of this session.”

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.


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