OKLAHOMA CITY – A pandemic, REAL ID and state budget cuts have created “a perfect storm” of issues for the state Department of Public Safety, an agency official said Monday.
The DPS office in Chickasha serves as an example. A line of people bundled in blankets or wearing coats, some sitting in lawn chairs, waited patiently in front of the building at 8:10 a.m. Monday.
A spokesperson told the Ledger last Friday that the earliest available appointment at the Chickasha DPS office was “two to three months” away. She also said only 10 or 11 in-person appointments are allowed during weekdays, and she recommended “come early” – and wear a mask – because usually more than 30 people are in line when the doors open at 8 a.m.
Farmer/businessman Glenn McNatt of Ninnekah said customers are gathering at the Chickasha DPS as early as 6 a.m. in hopes of being one of the few allowed inside each day. McNatt said he stood in line for two hours one day before leaving, disgusted. “I’ve got to make a living,” he said.
On December 15 a notice posted on the Chickasha DPS door said there was one less examiner that day “so no walk-ins would be allowed.”
REAL ID APPLICANTS FLOODING DPS OFFICES
Since he travels frequently on business – McNatt grows and sells hemp for filtration products – he needs a REAL ID. “Been trying to renew my CDL [commercial driver’s license] since August,” he wrote on Facebook recently. “Problem is, the Chickasha office reflects BOOKED for 3-4 months.”
When he arrived at the DPS office one afternoon at 4:15 “there was no one waiting in line.” So he called about “doing a walk-in” but was told the office was closed. However, a sign posted on the door said the office hours were 8 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays.
“They’re doing a disservice to us citizens,” McNatt said Monday. Similarly, for individuals requesting a REAL ID driver’s license, by the end of the day Monday the Westlake Tag Agency in northwest Oklahoma City was booked up with 30-minute appointments between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for the rest of December, throughout January and for all but the last two days of February.
PANDEMIC, BUDGET CUTS TAKE A TOLL ON DPS
At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the DPS closed its offices for a month “and we’re still trying to catch up,” said Sarah Stewart, the DPS director of media operations.
“We have employees out because of exposure” to the coronavirus, she said. Some DPS offices have been closed, at least temporarily, and 28 driver’s license examiner positions remain vacant, because of a $9.1 million (8.8%) budget cut imposed for the current fiscal year.
On December 21, according to the DPS website:
• The driver’s license (DL) compliance office in Lawton would be closed through December 23.
• The computer network at the Altus DL exam office was out of service.
• DL exam offices were closed at Beaver, Boise City, Grove, Hugo and Stilwell.
• The Clinton DL exam office is accepting a limited number of walk-in applicants through January 4, and the office is closed in the afternoons while the examiner conducts scheduled driver tests.
• The compliance office at Woodward was closed until further notice, and because of a staff shortage and COVID-19 the DL exam office at Woodward was processing only applicants who had an appointment.
• The Stillwater DL exam office was processing appointments only.
• The Shawnee, Ponca City and Tulsa West DL exam offices were accepting no walk-ins “until further notice” due to a shortage of personnel; only applicants with an appointment were being processed.
• Because of COVID-19 exposures, an Oklahoma City driver’s license exam office was accepting appointments-only until January 4 and another was accepting appointments-only until December 29.
NEW EQUIPMENT NEEDED TO PRODUCE REAL ID LICENSES
And besides those issues, implementation of REAL ID “has required new resources,” Ms. Stewart said.
“We have to update the equipment at our driver’s license exam offices and at approximately 235 tag agencies across the state,” Stewart said. “We have to install new computers and new scanners for the documents required to get a REAL ID, and update the bandwidth (fiber),” she said. “It’s a major undertaking.”
Conceived as part of 2005 legislation in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the REAL ID law will require people to present security-enhanced identification to pass through airport security checkpoints or to enter certain federal facilities, such as military bases, once the regulations begin to be enforced on October 1, 2021.
Although several DPS offices have cut back their hours or have closed, Class D operator’s licenses and commercial driver’s licenses can be renewed online. “We received some CARES Act funding to hire a person to process online applications,” Stewart said. “And we received a funding transfer from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to open some of our offices on Saturdays for commercial driving exams, enabling us to do some testing outside regular business hours,” she said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can with the money and the personnel we have.”