Op-Ed: Better customer service by state agencies

Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview (Cullman Tribune file photo)

This is a theme I’ve been promoting since I arrived in Montgomery.

I firmly believe in the Christian principle, “We are to serve, not be served” and that should be the goal of elected officials and those working in public service.

Just like all businesses, restaurants, corporate America and even our churches, most state and public employees are very, very good and some are…well, not so good.

As a Legislature, and the executive branch of government, we have to find ways to make sure we don’t set them up to fail. (I’m talking about better customer service by state agencies). And, then we have to demand and require better customer service.

I serve on the Legislative Sunset Committee. This a joint committee of House and Senate members.

Most state agencies, boards and commissions must be reauthorized every four years by the Sunset Committee and then a majority vote of the Legislature. Without reauthorization, they cease to exist, as with the term “sunset.”

In our Sunset Committee meetings, I look at state agencies and boards with two specific questions:

  • Is there arrogance in the agency/board?
  • Does the agency/board control or prevent competition in its respective field?

There is no place for arrogance in public service.

Again, most we see are doing a good job, but it’s our responsibility as the public’s oversight to make sure and deal with those who are not doing a good job.

And, sometimes a state agency is doing the best it can with what it has under the circumstances, but falling short. That’s when the Legislature has to help.

Let me give you a good example.

In 2016, the Alabama House of Representatives established a “Driver’s License Review Committee” because of a lot of public complaints about long lines and wait times, not in all, but a lot of driver’s license exam offices.

Parents of students were waiting all day and sometimes more for driver exams, as well as others needing services.

I was appointed by Speaker Mac McCutcheon to chair the review committee.

As we reviewed the driver’s license exam process, we identified some internal changes that could take advantage of other available resources to reduce the numbers of people required to go to the exam offices.

It was clear from the start, their biggest problem was not enough people working in the exam offices, causing delays and long wait times. And, that was a funding issue.

Example: We toured the Marshall County Driver’s License office. It was an area serving 100,000 people with one person doing it all. She was doing everything she could with a smile, but it was impossible. We were fortunate to have two good examiners in the Cullman office.

We still have work to do, but Governor Ivey and her Secretary of ALEA, Hal Taylor have worked closely with our committee to address the problems:

  • Marshall County Driver’s License Office now has two people instead of one.
  • Metro area driver’s license exam offices are now open on Saturdays 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.
  • High volume offices are now offering “fast track” lanes for customers with simple transactions instead of waiting behind customers with more time-consuming transactions.
  • Scheduling appointments can now be arranged online.
  • Driver’s license renewals can be done online in most cases.
  • Veterans can now add “Veteran Status” to their driver’s license at their local license or probate office instead of waiting in line at exam offices.
  • Adding Vessel endorsement to your driver’s license can soon be done at a local license or probate office.
  • Computer software is in the works to streamline the process for students completing driver’s education class. This will significantly reduce the numbers going through the driver’s license exam offices.
  • Plans are being developed for the next legislative session to address driver’s license staff upgrades and additional staff.
  • Plans are being developed for facility upgrades as well.

This year, a final push to get Star I.D. driver’s licenses will add to the numbers of customers. However, after this year, I feel confident long-term solutions to modernize the Alabama Driver’s License Exam offices will be in place.

Working together, adding better customer service in state agencies is a priority of the Legislature and Governor Ivey.

Thank y’all for letting me represent you in Montgomery!

Next Week’s Topic: Thank You Senior Citizens