The investigation into the troubled Registry of Motor Vehicles opened a new front Friday, after a state lawmaker heading a probe of the agency said there appears to be an untold number of documents the Baker administration has not turned over to the committee.
Representative William M. Straus said he has “every reason to believe” there are more documents that could help shed light on key periods of failure within the Registry. The contention drew a heated rebuttal from the Department of Transportation and further escalated a months-long debate between the Republican administration and Democratic legislative leaders.
The fresh questions surround a project management software program, known as Asana, which allows officials to track assignments, schedule meetings, and communicate electronically.
Straus said the Legislature’s Committee on Transportation has obtained hundreds of documents — amid nearly one million pages the Baker administration has produced — showing RMV officials used the electronic platform to set up meetings, dubbed “scrums.”
But the committee has not received any “stand-alone Asana” documents from the discussions themselves, said Straus, the committee’s House chairman, and when it did, it’s only in cases when an official attached the record to an e-mail churned up in the response to its request.
He questioned whether there are more records showing discussions about the agency’s problematic rollout of a new systemwide software in 2018 or the handling of alerts from other states about law-breaking drivers that could shed additional light on the failures.
“There could be hundreds of such meeting documents . . . that have been the core focus of the committee’s work,” the Mattapoisett Democrat said. “There is a legitimate question, based on the documents we’ve been looking at, whether all of the Asana management documents have been provided to the committee.”
Governor Charlie Baker’s administration roundly rejected the contention it hasn’t turned over relevant records, saying that any document on Asana would have to be saved as a separate record, such as a word document or spreadsheet, which they’ve already searched.
Department of Transportation officials said they also use the term “scrum” to describe other meetings and that it’s “not synonymous with a unique electronic record.”
Jacquelyn Goddard, a MassDOT spokeswoman, criticized Straus, saying officials have offered him help searching the records and addressing issues he’s raised.
“Representative Straus has refused to work with DOT on any of these fronts, and the department continues to learn about unsubstantiated accusations primarily through the media,” Goddard said in a statement. She added that the agency is committed to working cooperatively with the committee’s review.
The committee launched an investigation into the Registry amid the aftermath of a fatal June crash, in which a West Springfield trucker — whose license should have already been stripped by Massachusetts officials — allegedly hit and killed seven motorcyclists on a New Hampshire highway. The incident exposed years of deep-rooted bureaucratic failures, including an admission that officials had been ignoring notifications from other states where Massachusetts-licensed drivers had broken the law.
MassDOT has said it’s turned over more than 970,000 pages of documents to lawmakers since they began requesting records in mid-July. But the debate has long loomed as a point of tension between the administration and legislators.
Straus and fellow cochair, Senator Joseph A. Boncore, fumed in an Aug. 6 letter to Pollack about the “serious, overall frustration” about its response to that point to the committee’s requests, adding then it was “losing confidence in the administration’s willingness to cooperate fully.”
That came after lawmakers abruptly ended an initial hearing on July 23 when Thomas Bowes, the then-director of the Registry’s Merit Rating Board, and Keith Costantino, director of its Driver Control Unit, didn’t appear despite requests from the committee.
They ultimately testified a week later among other officials.
Straus pointed specifically to a Sept. 1, 2016, e-mail between Costantino, Bowes, and others, discussing the Registry’s plan to transfer the responsibility of processing paper notifications sent by states to Bowes’s unit.
The decision has since been highly scrutinized. A years-long backlog of alerts ultimately languished in Registry storage for years, and Bowes’s unit later stopped processing the notifications altogether in March 2018 amid its struggles to adjust to the implementation of new software.
But that September, Costantino had presented a two-page plan to attack the issue, and suggested that officials use the Asana platform to discuss it.
“If there is a format best suits the group (Asana) for review purposes . . . please do not hesitate to incorporate the details and transition the materials to that format,” he wrote in an e-mail provided to the committee.
MassDOT officials said Friday they didn’t find any such records in their search. But Straus, who said the committee has relied on other “sources” to inform its investigation outside of the administration’s official responses, challenged that.
“We have every reason to believe that they do exist,” he said.
Straus and Boncore have said they’re planning to hold another oversight hearing this month featuring representatives from Grant Thornton; Fast Enterprises, which developed the RMV’s record-keeping software; and the State Police, all of whom didn’t testify on July 30 after the hearing ran for more than seven hours.
The lawmakers, however, also left the door open to calling others to the yet-to-be-scheduled hearing.