Land Of 10,000 Money Pits

MInnesota’s motor vehicle licenseing and registration system – MNLARS – is years behind schedule, cost nearly 50 million dollars to unsuccessfully build…

…and will need nearly that much to get working.


The system dubbed MNLARS was already years behind schedule and nearly twice its original $48 million budget when it launched this summer. But problems with the mainframe have caused delays in delivering license tabs and titles and frustrated car dealerships with once simple transactions.

Top project managers said Wednesday they need another $43 million to get MNLARS on track. Dana Bailey from Minnesota’s Information Technology Services says that will allow the state to fix bugs and correct major issues by this summer.

It currently takes months to get registrations and licenses processed.  If you’re lucky.

Im sure this time they’ll get it right.

Minnesota’s state IT has always been iffy.  Under Mark Dayton, it’s gotten much, much worse.

23 thoughts on “Land Of 10,000 Money Pits

  1. The $43 million has got to be mostly salaries. So, at $100k/year per FTE, that would mean that fixing the project would require 430 man/years of labor in addition to the 480 man/years already spent.
    To distribute little slips of paper with numbers on them, and to track the numbers.

  2. Well, come on, Mitch. This is a unique situation that requires a customized, one-off, solution that takes years to design and build and code.

    It’s not like every other state issues driver’s licenses and title cards as we do, not to mention needing a license plate on the front AND back of every vehicle. It’s not like we could have bought one of 49 other systems off the shelf.

  3. from the MPR story:

    this is what it looks like when the predatory bureaucrat class shows its fangs:

    ” Asked about the need for accountability, Dana Bailey said she didn’t have an answer to that. But she said bringing in all new people would only add to the problems.

    “You let people go that have been working on the system, that know the system, that know what the system needs, in order to fix it, and you start all over,” she said.”

    IOW, we will hold no one accountable and you will give $43 million to the people who already proved they couldn’t do the job and you STFU!

  4. MP most of the money goes to the “shadow bureaucracy” – the contractors (Price-Waterhouse, Accenture, etc) who feed deep and long at the trough.

  5. But the contractors spend the money on salaries, don’t they, MacArthur Wheeler?
    I am not a software engineer, but I know that an awful lot of CS at the managerial level is devoted to correctly estimating the amount of FTE time a given software problem will take to solve. It’s not like an airline where something out of management’s control, like a recession or a doubling of the price of jet fuel can turn a winning year into bankruptcy. How can the project managers be this wrong? Why didn’t they hedge by making the contractors post a performance bond?

  6. They are not wrong, MP. They know exactly what they are doing. A built in bug which requires more funds to solve is a feature. No wonder Bailey does not want oversight! Graft and corruption are the norm when you live at the trough with endless supply of taxpayer money.

  7. If they were smart (oh, I make myself laugh), they’d realize that most of the vehicle registration tax is collected in the first two years, and therefore they’d do well simply to collect it when a new vehicle is sold. Maybe adjust the gas tax and eliminate annual registration altogether.

  8. “You let people go that have been working on the system, that know the system, that know what the system needs, in order to fix it, and you start all over,” she said.”

    I call it, The Cult of Management. It is the belief that management can tackle any problem, even things they do not understand, by following a process.

    I worked for the state for 18 years and witnessed this over and over and over again. Twice, in my department alone, management contracted for million dollar systems without consulting the people who understood them. Not only did they not consult them, they deliberately froze them out of “the process.”

    In addition to process, let’s talk about methodologies. I believe that competent people who understand a problem are better off following any methodology than punting on their own, though I have seen some very good systems built by punters. 🙂

    We used to call Hennepin County, Hennepin Country, for their arrogance and death by process approach to avoid doing meaningful work. I was once saddled with working with them on building a prototype and they demanded that we use full RUP (Rational Unified Process). We explained there should be a difference in approach between building a rowboat and a battleship.

    They disagreed.

    Their idea was that the more involved the process, the greater its chance of success. Initially, I could not understand their thinking – until I realized their definition of success was not having to deliver anything.

    I see the problem not as unique to government – but characteristic of older institutions…. of which government and churches are the oldest – but it is also true of mature industries.

    I highly recommend an old article in The Washington Monthly titled: What Lou Gerster Could Teach Bill Clinton. It is the parable of IBM’s fall and the lessons to be learned for all institutions.

    Here is the takeaway quote:

    “If you leave institutions in place for too long, whether governments or corporations, they get focused on maintaining themselves as institutions,” says Jim McGroddy, who ran IBM’s research labs from 1989 to 1995. “What they achieve for the customer becomes very secondary.”

  9. Mac is spot on!

    When I was selling in the IT industry, those companies that were established to be CPAs, suddenly morphing into IT experts, were exposed padding their billed expenses many times. Their modis operandi is to bring in people to do the project from out of town and sneaking people that know nothing about the technology, in for training.

  10. MP when I was doing that kind of work they would bill me out at $100-$150/hr, of which I got between $35 and $50/hr and I wasn’t doing the hard stuff just CRUD database front ends (which is a lot of what the MNLARS is composed of). The contractor usually would throw dozens of noobs developers at a project hoping that some of them would get it right. The resulting codebase was usually so unmaintainable that it guaranteed nearly complete rewrites each time a significant upgrade was authorized, thats part of the $93 million that MNLARS has already consumed.
    The State of MN was a favorite goose because many of the project managers at the State were recruited from the Contractor community and didn’t see the need for performance bonds with their old “trusted” employer.
    In fairness to the contractors, the state was notorious for continually changing the specifications AND not doing anything but cursory acceptance testing. Additionally if the unions thought your software was going to eliminate a job they would insist on spec changes as late as possible in the project. In the early 2000s the unions changed their tactics somewhat and started seeing software projects as opportunities to create more union jobs….
    as my old boss said “Its a deep trough, there’s plenty for everyone!”

  11. Greg gets it right, RUP is a union favored methodology because it “creates” jobs!

  12. From Mac’s link
    “The private sector is not constrained by arbitrary deadlines and has the opportunity to test new concepts before launching major projects,” said [IT Director Dana] Bailey.”

    That’s a true statement.

    The private sector is constrained by hard stop deadlines set by customers; we create a project schedule, evaluate it and decide if we can meet it or not. That’s why we dont fuck around with new concepts on live projects unless it’s a directive from the customer, who recognizes and accepts the risk.

    Were any of you asked to accept the risk of Dana’s new concepts? No? Well, that’s when the private sector takes the hit for their poor decision making; heads roll and the company fixes it on their dime.

    Also, notice the spiffy multi media presentation Dana has up on the wall to help he explain why you should pay for her poor decisions and failure…wonder how much of the budget went into making It?

  13. Speaking of feckless public servants:

    Dear Neighbor:

    I’m hosting a town hall meeting TONIGHT, Thursday, February 1 from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in the auditorium at the North High School in North St. Paul. North High School is located at 2416 11th Avenue, North Saint Paul, MN 55109.

    The first year of President Trump’s administration has been filled with White House chaos and a Republican Congress that refuses to govern responsibly. With that in mind, I want to update the Fourth District about what’s going on in Washington and hear directly from you about the issues that matter most to you and your families.

    I’m looking forward to a robust conversation about the Trump administration and our country’s future. Bring a friend or neighbor and join us tonight!


    Betty McCollum

    That’s an action packed evening of fun, right there. She doesn’t show up very often among the unwashed slobs…big opportunity not to be missed. Bring a friend or neighbor and engage her in a bit of robust conversation!

  14. My brother loves to tell of his contracting stint in another state DMV. The state had worked with its own 20 programmers and 20 more from Wipro for 3 years and gotten nothing to work and the project was 18 months late. His company came in with 3 employees and they struggled for 6 months until the manager went on maternity leave and was replaced by someone with no background in IT. That actually worked out, because the person who didn’t know squat about IT got out of the way. It turned out that his 3 non-Wipro contractors branched out with the one competent state programmer and in 3 months totally rewrote the project and got it working. All before the original manager got back. As he put it, just get the incompetents out of the way and they could make it work, but with the usual quality of folks the government employed and hired it was impossible.

    They supported the project for almost a year after it went live, then he moved on, mainly to keep his skills sharp and to work in an environment that actually expected things to work.

    Two years after he left he got called back on a very sweet gig that involved removing all the “improvements” the Wipro and state guys had made to the program after he left. He billed like crazy for reverting the code to pretty much what it had been when they left, with a few minor tweaks for the latest OS and a couple of new minor features. As he put it, they paid him twice, and well each time, for what was essentially the same project.

    The sorry thing? Last I heard the DMV had called him *again* to go in and fix things. Apparently the state hasn’t intention of learning a lesson.

  15. OK, ballpark guess here, but $93 million down and $43 million to go, according to the articles, say 10 year life, depreciation alone is the first $2 of each vehicle registration, double or triple that for employees to run it. Pretty inefficient way of getting revenue, I dare suggest.

  16. Well, you know what that means, bike. Your tab fees are about to go up. Erasing the only thing The Body did right.

  17. its worth noting that the $43 million has a proposed burn rate of 6 months
    “Dana Bailey from Minnesota’s Information Technology Services says that will allow the state to fix bugs and correct major issues by this summer.”

    what will the price tag be for ongoing maintenance and operations once everything is “fixed”?

  18. Huh.

    You know, Mac, Coleman created a multi-million dollar, triply redundant bureaucracy to award a Directorship to his former head lobbyist. Within three blocks downtown, there is a state of Minnesota Department of Human rights and Ramsey County Department of Human Rights, but Ol’ Chris thought the city needed one too (It reflects the city’s values is what he said to me, when asked).

    Question is, did that gift cost taxpayers more than this one? I think it did over time, but Bailey clearly has the knack for burning through bales of cash…give her a chance and I bet she is a contender.

  19. If one looks at Dana Bailey’s LinkedIn profile, it will be clear why she’s on this project. She doesn’t seem to have the experience and is definitely a left wing political groupie for Governor Mumbles.

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