Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday that the Registry of Motor Vehicles tumbled into “complete failure” when it ignored tens of thousands of alerts from other states about Massachusetts-licensed drivers, including hundreds of accused drunk drivers.
But Baker, facing his own questions of management, also offered a vote of confidence for his top transportation aide, Stephanie Pollack, who’s overseeing the fallout to not just the RMV’s troubles but the MBTA’s own continued struggles.
The dual crises have cast a harsh spotlight on Baker, who twice ran successfully on the image of being an adept manager who would remake, among other agencies, the long-beleaguered RMV into an efficient hub of bureaucracy.
Its problems, however, have opened his administration to potential state and federal scrutiny after officials admitted they should have terminated the commercial license of a 23-year-old West Springfield truck driver before he allegedly plowed into a group of motorcycle riders, killing seven, last month in Randolph, N.H.
“I view what happened at the RMV as a complete failure,” Baker told reporters after an unrelated event on the Charles River Esplanade on Tuesday. “While there’s been tremendous progress made in a variety of areas around the front of the house that has to do with customer service, this is a tremendous failure. . . . And the goal at this point is to get it fixed as quickly as possible.”
For at least 15 months, RMV officials ignored tens of thousands of alerts that Massachusetts-licensed motorists had broken driving laws in other states — including for drunken driving and other serious infractions — and instead stuffed the notifications, apparently unread, into mail bins inside a Quincy office building.
As a result, at least 540 drivers who should have had their Massachusetts licenses suspended for driving under the influence elsewhere were allowed to stay on the road, and officials still don’t know the total number of notifications that were ultimately missed.
No one at the RMV had been, since March 2018, tracking paper notifications sent by other states when a Massachusetts motorist is cited or charged. Officials said that last week they discovered more than 53 bins containing tens of thousands of individual notices, all organized by month of arrival, inside a records room in the RMV’s Quincy headquarters.
Officials say they’re also reviewing whether the state properly sent “outgoing” notifications after licensed drivers from other states broke driving laws in Massachusetts. That process will include ensuring that the RMV “complies with all state and federal notification requirements,” according to an RMV memo.
Baker declined to comment on whether he has concerns there were failures there, too, citing the ongoing review.
“I’m uncomfortable speaking to it beyond that at this point,” he said.
Pollack, speaking Monday, brushed off a question about whether she, too, would step down, telling reporters about the RMV’s problems: “The governor asked me to fix this and I’m going to fix it.”
She also is guiding the administration’s response on the T, where Baker is asking the Legislature to infuse $50 million into the system to help speed repairs and maintenance work after a June 11 derailment sent the Red Line into chaos.
Twice asked whether he still had trust in Pollack, Baker said Tuesday that he has “faith in my secretary of transportation.”
“Her job, as I said to her and as she said yesterday with the RMV, is to deal with the current issues that were raised by the preliminary report — which, by the way, was developed by her office — and to act on them,” he said, adding that “the same goes for the issues associated with implementing that capital plan at the T.”