Metro

RMV demands auditor correct ‘inaccurate’ report on driver’s licenses

Auditor Suzanne Bump.
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File 2018
Auditor Suzanne Bump.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles on Thursday demanded that state Auditor Suzanne Bump correct an explosive report saying the RMV issued driver’s licenses to nearly 2,000 dead individuals between 2014 and 2016.

In a letter to Bump, RMV registrar Erin Deveney called the auditor’s report, issued last week, “inaccurate.” She said the agency had confirmed that the drivers the auditor claimed dead are actually alive, including people RMV staffers personally knew.

“Your finding that the RMV issued over 1,900 driver’s licenses after their dates of death is inaccurate and I am requesting you address this immediately,” Deveney wrote.

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According to the audit, the RMV issued 1,905 driver’s licenses to dead individuals, and did not deactivate their licenses after they died. But the RMV quickly disputed that notion and said it had confirmed all of the drivers were alive.

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In the letter, Deveney said auditors relied solely on the Social Security Administration’s death database to determine if drivers had died, but did not cross-reference them with another database that would have shown they were alive. These individuals may have appeared dead in the Social Security database if their Social Security number was incorrectly entered as a clerical mistake years earlier, but the other database would have shown they are still alive.

In response, Bump said Deveney’s concerns would be posted on the auditor’s website. She did not directly say whether the findings were inaccurate, but accused the RMV of not being more clear about its concerns before the audit was released.

“The accuracy of an audit depends on the data that is provided and the level of cooperation of an auditee,” she wrote in a letter. “Our audit was based on data provided by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. As such, we stand by the findings of the audit.”

But Deveney said RMV officials tried to alert the auditor’s office of problems with an earlier draft of the report that went ignored before it was published. And she said in the letter that officials in the auditor’s office have admitted in the last week that the findings were flawed. Bump spokesman Michael Wessler, however, said the auditor’s staff stood by their findings in the meeting.

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The auditor’s report also said the RMV issued or renewed disabled parking placards for more than 10,000 dead motorists. Deveney did not deny that the disabled parking placards were improperly processed, but said the auditor misrepresented the way the RMV tracks deaths.

“Your office’s response suggests a disregard for the RMV’s efforts to ensure that your findings included accurate information about the RMV’s processes,” she wrote.

Deveney stressed that she especially wanted the auditor to publicly correct the claims about dead motorists.

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.

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

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Bump, a longtime politician, faces a Republican, a Libertarian, and a Green-Rainbow candidate in November and has recently ramped up her criticism of Governor Charlie Baker. She rallied for Baker’s opponent, Jay Gonzalez, at a party event last week, and has 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.”

Baker has sought to reform the RMV by speeding up its notorious wait times. But the agency backslid earlier this year when it began issuing a new type of identification, mandated by the federal government, that requires more documentation from drivers and cannot be obtained online.

That gummed up registries across Massachusetts — a problem that afflicted several other states. Meanwhile software and communications hiccups led the RMV to mistakenly tell some drivers their licenses were expired. Other drivers felt they were misled when the agency issued a letter directing them to renew their license online — where they could not obtain the new ID that is in line with federal standards.

Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamtvaccaro.