Computers could have prevented plate gaffe

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Months ago, state officials revealed that the Department of Revenue had spent millions of dollars on a new computer system meant to handle license plate transactions electronically, but that the computers still weren't running.

Friday, the agency said the system could have prevented the state from issuing some of the nearly 22,000 license plate sets mistakenly printed with numbers already in use.

The department printed 21,978 sets of duplicate license plates, 1,502 of which were distributed to motorists before officials learned of the mistake July 8.

In January, State Auditor Claire McCaskill disclosed that the department, under previous administrations, had spent more than $17 million since 1995 on a computer system that still is not in operation and had computers and other equipment sitting unused in a warehouse.

The program -- called FASTR -- would allow licensing offices around the state to submit vehicle licensing and titling information electronically to the Department of Revenue's headquarters in Jefferson City, instead of mailing in the paperwork as they do now.

Revenue Director Trish Vincent said in January she became aware of the problem shortly after being appointed, and planned to get the system running by the end of the year.

Friday, agency spokeswoman Maura Browning said the goal is to have the system operational by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, 2006, though some areas could go online earlier.

While the system might not have prevented the department from ordering the wrong list of plate numbers, it could have allowed state officials to catch the problem sooner. If an employee at a contract fee office had entered the duplicate plate information into the main computer system, it would have flagged it right then as a problem, she said, rather than taking a couple weeks for the paperwork to be processed manually in Jefferson City.

"It would've prevented us from issuing any duplicate plates," Browning said.

Nearly all the plates were sent to license offices in the eastern part of the state, the agency said, with less than 700 going to three northwest Missouri offices. The cost to reprint the plates and mail out correct ones to the roughly 1,500 people who got duplicate plates was estimated Friday at nearly $67,000.

To guard against a similar mistake in the future, the agency said it now requires a supervisor to double-check the order list for new license plate numbers before employees send it off for printing.

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