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Lawmakers Share Ongoing Concerns About Kansas Driver’s License IT Project

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service

Lawmakers remain concerned about potential snags as Kansas wraps up years of work on migrating driver’s license records from an old mainframe computer to newer infrastructure ahead of a January launch date. 

Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Information Technology, asked legislative auditing staff Friday whether the state might see a repeat of the technical woes that plagued the first phase of the same project five years ago. 

“I’m just trying to understand why we’re having so much problems getting all this done on a timely basis, where it works,” Hoffman said. “Do you have an answer whether or not you think we’re going to have those same problems? Or do you think because of the monitoring you guys have done we’re going to be relatively problem-free?” 

After a pause, auditor Katrin Osterhaus replied: “I am concerned.” 

Auditors have been reviewing the progress of the driver’s license project on a quarterly basis because of its history of difficulties and its importance. 

Auditor Katrin Osterhaus told Kansas legislators that some of the remaining obstacles to a smooth rollout of a driver's license IT project include the timing of work related to a key contractor, MorphoTrust.
Credit Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

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The portion of the project scheduled to go live at the start of 2018 will hold the records of 2 million drivers. It is launching six years behind schedule. 

Osterhaus said some of the remaining obstacles to a smooth rollout include the timing of work related to a key contractor on the project, MorphoTrust. Auditors previously indicated the contractor had missed at least two major deadlines. 

Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, asked whether Kansas could skirt problems by switching contractors. 
“Is there any other group or company that also does the same services they do that you guys could potentially use to get this done faster?” asked Carpenter, chairman of the IT committee. 

“At this point even if there were,” Osterhaus replied, “I don’t know if that would be a good option, because it’s so far into it.” 

Members of the Legislature’s audit committee, which also is monitoring KanDrive, have expressed similar concerns about the upcoming rollout. 

Officials at the Kansas Department of Revenue, which is carrying out the project, have indicated in recent months that they remain committed to the 2018 launch and that progress has been made on debugging trouble spots. 

In a July 31 report, auditors laid out concerns regarding gaps in code and features that relied on technical workarounds to work. 

The vision for KanDrive — recently renamed KanLicense — and related infrastructure projects began under another name a decade ago. Phase one of the estimated $40 million in IT modernization was a new vehicle title and registration platform that launched in 2012. County officials complained then of widespread technical problems that led to hours-long waits in some places for Kansans trying to update their tags. 

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio,  KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.