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Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Vehicle License Snafu: Weak Oversight, Weak Paychecks?

Mr. Ehrisman posts an anonymous letter that may shed some light on why the new SDCARS vehicle license registration system launched so disastrously last month. At the very least, it offers some of the answers Mr. Wiken and others (but not the mainstream media) have been asking since the debacle began July 1. Among the highlights :

  • Anonymous says the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications took on the SDCARS project in 2005. They intended to build it in-house. BIT hired six full-time employees and burned one million dollars—half their allotted budget for the project—before admitting in summer 2006 that they wouldn't be able to build the system after all.
  • As reported in a July 24 Pierre Capital Journal article, the state then purchased software from Unisys for $1.2 million. Unisys had designed the software for Indiana; we then spent another $1.1 million (as of June 30) customizing the software. (Perhaps questions can be addressed to Sioux Falls-based Charles Kneip, director of Motor Vehicle Solutions Practice for Unisys.)
  • Part of the problem, says Anon, is a lack of control and oversight. How could the Department of Revenue and Regulation Secretary Paul Kinsman not have found time in three years to call BIT Commissioner Otto Doll and ask a few simple things, like whether the new system could process boat and trailer registrations and compute fees? (Those are just a few of the things the new system couldn't do on deployment July 1.)
  • Another part of the problem may be low wages. Anon says North Dakota starts junior programmers at $58 an hour. Nebraska starts junior programmers at $61 an hour. South Dakota pays all programmers, junior and senior, $48 an hour. "While this may seem like a benefit," says Anon, "the effect is that for a division manager or department head it makes it harder to contract out work to better qualified firms. The result is sometimes that the apparent savings means hiring less qualified services that cost more in the long run." Hmm... there may be a lesson there for everyone on teacher pay, as well. You get what you pay for....


  1. Matthew Paulson8/16/2008 5:46 PM

    Cory, those numbers can't be correct. No one at BIT programming makes $48-$50 an hour. They pay $50k-$60k a year or so for programmers, tops, which works out to $25-$30 an hour. I would be shocked (and packing my bags and moving) if developers in near by states made that much.

  2. This is yet another example of Governor Rounds' lack of leadership. He's a nice person, a good person, but not a natural leader or manager, and certainly, not visionary. Heads should roll for this debacle.

  3. Wow, this is certainly the South Dakota attitude. Rather than just buying a working system, we decide to build our own at many times the cost of a simple purchase.

    Seriously, other states have developed similar software and have worked out the bugs. It's always cheaper to buy than to develop. The retard who is in charge of this program should be fired on the spot. Oh wait, we're in SD. That could hurt his feelings. Let's just continue to tolerate the incompetence.

  4. Matt, I wondered about those numbers, too. Could it be that Anon is referring to the amount the state budgets for when it contracts for programming from vendors?

  5. Matthew Paulson8/17/2008 5:00 PM


    Yes, the company I work for has a few state contracts. I'm fairly sure most of them are at around $60 an hour.

  6. Ah, so maybe we are offering competitive rates, at least in our bids for outside contractors?

  7. Interesting letter and comments on the SD:CARS SNAFU. I guess what interested me was the apparent lack of curiousity about how the system developed, etc. that mostly weren't being touched by the so-called mainstream media.

    Years ago, I worked in a state agency. There was a programmer hired as well. At that time, he could move to Wisconsin and get a lot more. SD would not pay him anything close to that, so he sold his house and we bought his brand new washer and dryer.

    The agency then turned around and hired consultants from Denver who were much amused at the Pierre small town rush minutes at 8 and 5.

    Anyway, at that time I concluded that mostly underqualified agency heads would rather hire an out of state consultant that cost double or triple the salary for a competent staff person because the agency heads did not want anybody around who could make them appear stupid or replaceable. Hired consultants were no threat to their jobs.

    Not sure if that applies one bit to the current situation however.


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