SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) ¿ New Mexico plans to solicit bids next month for a new computer system for the Motor Vehicle Division, which is part of a blueprint for making the agency more customer friendly through a better use of technology.

"We're embarking on a very ambitious program to create a new and improved MVD around the state," Taxation and Revenue Secretary Rick Homans said in an interview this week.

The current computer is more than 30 years old, and Homans said it doesn't meet the modern needs of the agency.

"It might have worked 30 years ago, but MVD now has to interact with all kinds of databases nationally, databases in the state," he said.

The department has a $20 million yearly budget and 350 employees in offices across the state. The department's responsibilities include issuing driver's licenses and identification cards, registering cars and trucks, maintaining the driving records of New Mexicans and keeping track of whether motorists have required insurance. The agency generates about $400 million in revenues annually through fees and taxes.

A new computer system will help in handling online transactions and could speed up services people receive at MVD offices, Homans said.

The potential cost of the computer remains uncertain but the agency is looking to buy an "off-the-shelf" system. Several states have done similar computer systems. A request for proposals should be issued in May and a vendor could be selected by November or December. The computer system likely will be implemented in phases over several years.

Because the state faces a tight financial situation, Homans said, "We're going to be asking the vendors to come forward with some creative financing as well because there may be a gap between what we have available right now and what we need right now."

MVD, which is part of the Taxation and Revenue Department, is moving ahead with other plans to improve its use of technology. It's negotiating with a company, NICUSA Inc., on a contract to handle the online sales of driver and vehicle information, such as to insurance companies. The company also is to provide the agency with an updated Web site, which will offer online services, including allowing people to schedule driving tests.

Eventually, the agency hopes to expand its Internet-based services, including providing for the electronic titling of motor vehicles when people buy a car or truck. Another goal is to allow people to fill out forms online before a visit to a field office. People no longer would have to complete the written forms when they arrive, potentially reducing wait times.

The state solicited bids and received offers from IBM Corp. and NICUSA, a subsidiary of NIC Inc., which is based in Olathe, Kan. and provides electronic government services and portals for states, including Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The move to hire a private vendor for the driver and vehicle information and Web site has drawn objections, including from the half dozen companies that currently pay the state for access to the data. Those companies then charge fees for businesses or others to check on motor vehicle or driving records.

The New Mexico Press Association and New Mexico Foundation for Open Government have questioned whether the MVD proposal will lead to a broader state "electronic government" portal that's financed by fees on users of public records. An e-government portal bill died in the Legislature in 2004.

"It's kind of a backdoor approach to the Web portal," said Dana Bowley, executive director of the press association. "We don't have any problem with Web access to public records."

But he said, "The public should not have to pay for records that belong to the public."

Homans emphasized there would be no change in the ability of people to get access to records under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

Other changes are under way at the agency. Bids will be solicited next month for new contracts with private companies that run offices where people can get driver's licenses and other services, such as registering vehicles. Homans said it's possible that vendors will be awarded "franchises" to operate in particular regions of the state. One goal is to open offices in smaller communities.

Later this year, MVD will establish "express lanes" in its field offices for simple transactions and will change its staffing to reduce waiting times at peak hours, such as from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when agency workers usually take lunch breaks. Longer-range plans include upgrading an automated call center that allows people to conduct transactions over the telephone.
Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

If you liked this article you might like

What's Behind the Surge in Energy Stocks

What's Behind the Surge in Energy Stocks

Hillary Clinton Says Prosecuting Individuals is Key to Wall Street Reform

Hillary Clinton Says Prosecuting Individuals is Key to Wall Street Reform