In an op/ed that appeared this week in the Daily News of Jacksonville, North Carolina, state Senator Michael Lazzara from that state called for the privatization of North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles. His reason: the need for greater “efficiency.” In fact, he used some form of that word seven times in his 473-word opinion piece.

“The potential financial benefits of privatizing the DMV are substantial,” he writes. “With a more efficient operation, we can reduce overhead costs, optimize resource allocation, and pass these savings back to the taxpayers. Imagine a DMV that is not only more user-friendly but also a better steward of public funds.”

Every service, public or private, should be in the business of constant improvement, including modernizing with up-to-date technology and responding to evolving public needs. Government is no exception. But what Senator Lazzara doesn’t say is how privatization would lead to efficiency and, perhaps more importantly, what he means when he says the word. Greater efficiency is touted in most privatization schemes, but it should always lead to a series of fundamental questions.

If you’re going to spend less, what are you going to spend less on? Will you cut worker pay? Will you cut the number of workers, or their hours? Will you close offices in less-populated rural areas? How will that impact the people who use the services? How will you cut costs—and still make a profit–without cutting corners?

If you’re going to slice through bureaucratic red tape, what requirements or regulations are you hoping to work your way around? What is the broader impact? Why were the rules made in the first place, and does it make sense for a community to remove those rules?

Finally, efficiency for whom? Government providers and private companies have two very different goals: one is to serve the public; the other is to generate profit. Efficiently generating profit doesn’t necessarily meet the public needs.

Interestingly, North Carolina authorized a study on privatizing the DMV, but it won’t be completed until May 1 of this year. That fact didn’t stop Senator Lazzara from concluding, “The potential privatization of North Carolina’s DMV is a move that promises to usher in a new era of efficiency and fiscal responsibility.”

Turns out, the senator doesn’t need to imagine a “more user-friendly,” “better steward of public funds.” North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles is already in the midst of dramatic reforms and upgrades within the public program. The division expanded hours in some of their offices, began adding staff to meet needs, moved more services online, and installed ten self-service kiosks in convenient locations like grocery stores last year and plans to introduce ten more this year. Its covid-era policy required scheduled appointments but beginning in May of 2023, it limited its appointments to the morning in response to feedback asking for more walk-in hours.

“We’ve heard from the public that they want more walk-in availability, so that’s what we’re aiming to deliver,” said North Carolina DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin.

“On my watch, you will see continued positive changes that improve customer service and make DMV more efficient.”

Imagine that.

Shar Habibi
Research Director

Related Posts