After a friend told me she had waited three-and-a-half hours recently to get her Georgia driver's license renewed and then had to deal with a clerk that could have passed for a robot - and an unhelpful one, at that. I thought this to be a typical example of a bunch of government bureaucrats who don't care because they don't have to. Where else are we going to go to get our driver's licenses renewed? Burger King?
I sat down with the Georgia Department of Driver Services Commissioner Rob Mikell and related that bad experience with one of his constituents. If the impression is that this incident is business-as-usual is his department, that is incorrect, says Mikell. He says that, for the most part, his employees do a great job and provide good customer service. (My friend's license renewal was reviewed and corrected, so that story has a happy ending.)
The department of driver services probably touches more Georgians than any department in state government, with the exception of the department of revenue. The numbers are staggering. Georgia has more than 7 million licensed drivers and DDS deals with roughly half of those people -about 3.5 million last year - face-to-face. This doesn't include 1.5 million calls answered, 7,200 safety lessons for motorcycle drivers and 1.3 million citations processed; all of this in 65 locations across the state, manned by 420 full-time employees and 400 examiners. No matter the numbers, we taxpayers expect to be treated quickly, efficiently and courteously. No one understands that better than the commissioner.
"We are looking at everything we do to see if we can make the experience for our customers simpler and more efficient," Mikell said. "Including putting common sense into the process."
In other words, he is trying to get employees to figure out a way to help the customer and not seize on a bureaucratic loophole, as happened to my friend.
A three-and-a-half hour license renewal puts the department in a bad light and doesn't exactly win friends with the tax-paying public.
One of the gulps of the fire hose Mikell is trying to swallow is the Secure ID, which came as a result of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Georgia is one of the first states to become compliant with that federally mandated law.
To get your driver's license renewed today, there are several documents you must have to prove you are who you say you are and that you live where you say you live. It isn't rocket science. It just takes a little preparation on your part.
You need proof of identity. Your birth certificate or a passport will do. You need a document with your Social Security number. That can be your Social Security card, a W-2 or Tax Form 1099. Then, bring two forms of proof of your residential address (a recent bank statement and your monthly utility bill, for example, but not a piece of junk mail, a magazine label or an envelope.)
There are some exceptions. If the last name appearing on the primary identification documents is different from your current name, you must show additional information that verifies your name change, such as a marriage certificate, certified marriage application and/or a divorce decree. If you have an up-to-date passport that shows your married name as the legal name, that will suffice.
The commissioner suggests - and I agree - that you go to the department's website, dds.ga.gov, to get more information on how to simplify the process and to deal with any additional exceptions that might apply to you, such as having moved here from another state.
Using DDS online services, you may be able to handle your own transactions at your convenience, including completing your license application, changing your address and other matters.
I came away from my meeting with Mikell with a new respect for the department of driver services. These folks may not always get it right - in 4 million or more contacts with 7 million people, there is always a chance there will be a screw-up - but I think they are making a good-faith effort to do the right thing and to do it better.
At the same time, remember this is a team game. Mikell's job is to see his staff gives you their best efforts and shows some ingenuity in doing so. Your role is to show up with the correct documentation, as required by law. The more you help them, the better they can help you.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139. Yarbrough is a part-time resident of Dawson County.