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    Auditor says RMV licensed dead people. RMV says all the people are alive

    An audit found the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had issued 1,905 driver’s licenses in the names of dead people. The RMV says the audit is wrong.
    David L. Ryan /Globe Staff/File 2018
    An audit found the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had issued 1,905 driver’s licenses in the names of dead people. The RMV says the audit is wrong.

    State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released an audit Thursday that found the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles had issued 1,905 driver’s licenses in the names of dead people.

    The RMV says the audit is wrong.

    “Of the 1,905 names provided by the auditor, the RMV has confirmed that all 1,905 are alive,” said Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the agency.

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    Adjudicating the dispute is difficult because officials said the names of the 1,905 people to whom the licenses were issued can’t be released because of federal privacy requirements.

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    The audit, which covers the 2½ years from July 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2016, and which the RMV calls “outdated,” found that the agency issued licenses to people after their dates of death in the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. It also found that the RMV was far too loose in its handling of disability parking placards, creating “a higher-than-acceptable risk that these placards may be abused and deprive people with disabilities of needed parking.”

    Bump, a Democrat up for reelection in November, emceed a rally for Governor Charlie Baker’s opponent, Jay Gonzalez, and other Democratic candidates Wednesday, a day after the state primary. Her office said the release of the audit Thursday was not political, and audits are released as they are ready, without consideration of elections.

    Although the audit period includes six months before Baker took office, if the findings are true, they represent a knock on the Republican governor, who has crowed about making the Registry more efficient and effective, and who campaigned four years ago on preventing fraud and abuse in government programs.

    Almost 2,000 driver’s licenses being issued in the names of dead people would mark a huge failure for the agency and would create a significant risk of fraud.

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    Yet the RMV dismissed the audit’s conclusions.

    “The Registry of Motor Vehicles rejects the findings in the auditor’s report, especially the false claim that the RMV is issuing licenses to 1,900 deceased individuals who the RMV has verified are alive,” Goddard said. “This audit is outdated, as it was conducted before the implementation of an entirely new software system, which has improved management and tracking capabilities.”

    After using a 1980s-era system for decades, the RMV transitioned to a new system, ATLAS, in March.

    Baker, for his part, affirmed to reporters Thursday that everyone on the auditor’s list is alive.

    “We believe that it’s incumbent on the RMV to ensure that they’re not issuing licenses to people unless they are, in fact, alive,” he said. “Everybody on that list is alive. OK? Everybody.”

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    The RMV said the 1,905 were confirmed alive through the ATLAS system, which uses the Death Master File — the same federal data that the audit said it used to determine that those 1,905 people are dead.

    On disability parking placards, the audit found that the RMV “processed 10,145 requests for disability parking placards from individuals who . . . were deceased,” according to the Death Master File.

    The report did not define what “processed” meant, but Mike Wessler, Bump’s director of communications, said the audit found the RMV sent out 10,145 new or renewed disability parking placards to people who were listed as dead by the Social Security Administration.

    Goddard did not directly respond to this claim.

    The audit also found the RMV “does not properly administer the return and destruction of placards belonging to deceased individuals. Rather than requiring placards to be returned to RMV for destruction, it allows the placard holders’ estates to destroy or discard canceled placards themselves.”

    It said poor controls on the placards, which allow someone to park in a handicapped spot, open the door to abuse. Massachusetts limits use of disability placards to the people for whom the placard has been issued, such as those who can’t walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, can’t walk without an assistive device, use portable oxygen, or have lost a limb.

    The state issues permanent and temporary placards. The audit recommended that the RMV require all individuals with permanent disability placards to reapply every five years. But Goddard said “the RMV does not do this because it would be a burden for someone with a permanent disability to have to reapply.”

    Bump’s office said the RMV did not ensure its disability parking placard database was accurate and complete, and said the RMV should upgrade its database. Goddard said it improved its database with the rollout of the new ATLAS system months ago.

    The timing of Bump’s report, which included several other conclusions and recommendations, comes as the political season heats up.

    Bump, a longtime politician facing a Republican, a Libertarian, and a Green-Rainbow candidate in November, has ramped up her criticism of Baker in recent days. She rallied for Gonzalez at a party event Wednesday, and last week, at a union barbecue, she dinged the governor as “really lacking in leadership.”

    Citing an ongoing overtime fraud scandal at the State Police, she said, “It’s agency after agency, there is poor performance. People are seeing that there are chinks in his armor.”

    At the barbecue, she also said Baker is “not a courageous person.”

    Globe correspondent Matt Stout and Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.