by Scott McClallen
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Thursday asked for an unspecified amount of money to completely revamp the Michigan Department of State (MDOS).
The money would be used to provide “pop-up” offices, provide virtual interactions instead of in-person, and pass other laws that would result in less interaction with the department.
“Michiganders can now complete most of their transactions online, by mail or at one of our new self-service stations located at their local grocery store,” Benson said. “And the remaining in-person transactions are carried out by appointment, ensuring the vast majority of customers have little to no wait time.”
More than 60% of transactions are now conducted outside of branch offices, up from 30% in 2019, Benson said. Since MDOS began operating by appointment in June 2020, its ratings on Google have doubled — from only two stars to four stars on a five-star scale.
Benson said MDOS is increasing appointments offered by 35,000 per month since many Michiganders prefer appointment service and she will dedicate call center staff to booking online appointments for residents with internet limitations.
“We’re going to listen to the people on this,” Benson said. “It’s clear they do not want us to go backwards to the old way of doing things, where on any given day you could spend hours waiting for a basic transaction in any given branch office. The branch office by appointment model is working and, yes, it is a new way of doing things. But it’s a better way of doing things.”
It’s also apparently a more expensive way of doing things.
The unspecified amount of money, determined through the legislature, would create the “Branch Office of the Future” for pop-up offices at cafes, grocery stores, banks, workplaces, and events. It also seeks to:
- Enable virtual interactions instead of “in-person” visits.
- Provide legislation authorizing MDOS staff to interact remotely via virtual platforms with residents
- Allow for public-private partnerships to diversify options for residents.
- Enable MDOS to partner with private entities (banks, insurance providers, auto dealers, etc.) to provide SOS services.
- Expand services, personnel, and technology at the call center.
- With less interaction with branch services, the MDOS call center needs resources to expand to enable more convenient options for residents with internet limitations.
Benson called on Republican lawmakers to implement reforms that would enable customers to interact less frequently with MDOS, including to allow remote driver’s license testing, stop requiring veterans with the military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license to retrain and retest for a civilian CDL, and provide funding and authority for MDOS to develop public-private partnerships to improve operations.
- Enact HB 4117, which seeks to allow vehicle owners to renew their registrations every two years instead of annually.
- Allow remote driver’s license testing.
- Enact HB 4451, which would enable those seeking driver’s licenses to take their knowledge test with designated third parties (such as driver education programs) to free staff capacity to serve others.
- Allow customers to submit their own photo for some driver’s licenses and IDs.
- While federal law requires in-person transactions and photos for enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs, state law could be changed to allow standard driver license and ID photos to be submitted remotely, enabling customers to renew from their cell phones.
“We need lawmakers to join us as innovators in furthering a vision for the people of Michigan and pass needed reforms that will help us improve customer convenience and satisfaction,” Benson said. “That means pushing forward and implementing modern, best practices and available technology along with innovative ideas that support Michiganders in ways that work best for them.”
There appears to be some common ground between the parties.
In an April 17 Detroit News op-ed, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, suggested similar ideas, including strategies to “pave the way” for satellite SOS offices and using banks or libraries to help people get access to an ID.
However, the amount of support may depend on the final price tag to taxpayers.
“I think there’s some logic there would be an expense associated with bonding non-SOS offices to SOS services,” Shirkey spokesperson Abby Walls told The Center Square in a phone interview.
“We’re interested in making investments, not creating more costs.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.
Photo “Jocelyn Benson” by Ghanumal77 CC 3.0.