Audit: MassDOT board panel shares blame for RMV problems

Committee failed to inquire about big picture issues

IN ITS FINAL REPORT ON mismanagement at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, an audit firm faulted some of the political appointees on the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

The board’s Finance and Audit Committee, which is for overseeing risk management, failed to engage with staff at the RMV about big picture issues, according to the report by the auditing firm Grant Thornton. The firm’s final report was sent to reporters Friday afternoon.

“We did not identify instances of substantive discussions with either the director or members of MassDOT management on wider enterprise risk assessment and mitigation,” the report stated in its executive summary. “Understanding the various risks that an organization faces in the normal course of business enables an entity to timely deploy mitigation strategies.”

The Finance and Audit Committee is chaired by Betsy Taylor, the former top finance official at the Massachusetts Port Authority who has several decades of financial experience and a business degree from Stanford University.

After reviewing meeting minutes, Grant Thornton found that, dating back to the beginning of the Baker administration, the committee frequently interacted with the director of MassDOT Audit Operations “but such interactions revolved largely around the director informing the committee on the results of specific audits he would undertake.”

The Grant Thornton review was ordered following the June 21 crash in which Volodymyr Zhukovskyy killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire more than a month after his arrest and refusal to take a breathalyzer test in Connecticut. Connecticut informed the Massachusetts RMV on May 29 and June 4 about the incident, but the message never made it through the bureaucracy. The RMV has subsequently acknowledged that had either of those notifications been processed before the accident, Zhukovskyy’s commercial truck driver’s license would have been revoked.

The RMV had a major structural deficiency in its risk management at the time, Grant Thornton found.

Successful risk management involves three lines of defense. In the case of the RMV, there was a frontline defense – operational managers who oversee staff, including one employee who caught a glimpse of an issue with Zhukovskyy’s record but didn’t’ take action on it. The second line of defense involves compliance functions. Until the crash and the subsequent revelations, the Grant Thornton report said, the RMV “did not have a functioning compliance function.” The third line of defense is an internal audit unit. In March 2019, that unit did raise an issue with the Merit Rating Board – an RMV unit that had effectively stopped processing out-of-state paper notifications in March 2018 – but nothing was done to really correct that until after the crash.

On March 19, 2019, Tom Bowes, who was then the director of the Merit Rating Board, drafted an email to Erin Deveney, who was then the registrar, indicating his office would need five full-time equivalent staff resources to process the backlog of out-of-state notifications. But the auditor found no evidence that email was actually sent.

The deficiency within the MassDOT Board of Directors committee is less direct and less shocking than Bowes and Deveney’s decision to effectively ignore out-of-state paper notifications, but the audit firm did identify it as a contributing factor to the RMV’s failure to process the notices from Connecticut.

Other contributing factors include a “long-standing policy,” which has subsequently changed, “of not prioritizing the processing of out-of-state notifications,” and a lack of attention to operational reports from the ATLAS computer system that was installed in March 2018.

“The MassDOT Finance and Audit Committee would not necessarily be expected to be aware of every single specific risk facing the organization,” the auditors wrote. “It would, however, be reasonably expected to ensure that management has appropriate mechanisms in place so MassDOT, and the various agencies under its umbrella, have visibility into and control over such risks.”

The auditors were also unable to find a charter for the Finance and Audit Committee although the board’s bylaws stipulate that such a charter should be drafted and posted online.

After the heavy toll from its past mismanagement of out-of-state notifications, Massachusetts has become somewhat of an evangelist in the cause of improving communication between the states about drivers’ records – which allow states to carry out suspensions for infractions committed in other jurisdictions and notify jurisdictions about violations committed within their borders.

“Unfortunately Massachusetts does not seem to be alone in these challenges and what has become abundantly clear is that Massachusetts driving records can only be as up to date as possible as the timeliness of information provided or available to us,” wrote Acting Registrar Jamey Telser in a memorandum accompanying the Grant Thornton audit in which he expressed hope at improving interstate communication.

On Thursday evening, Tesler reported that Rhode Island plans to send Massachusetts 22,500 notices of infractions dating back to 2017 that it hadn’t previously sent to Massachusetts.

In a statement provided to CommonWealth on Friday, Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles spokesman Paul Grimaldi countered that the Ocean State had previously sent the information to the Problem Driver Pointer System, a function of the National Driver Registry.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

In Massachusetts one of Deveney’s rationales for allowing out-of-state paper notifications to pile up had been that the notices would also be logged by the national registry, but Massachusetts regulators only check that registry periodically. Nevertheless, Grimaldi said that because the Rhode Island information is sent to the national database, the paper notices sent to Massachusetts are merely “duplicate notifications.”

“The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles contacted the R.I. DMV to obtain copies of prior notifications logged in [Problem Driver Pointer System, or PDPS] in paper form,” Grimaldi said. “We were happy to comply with that request.  We also offered to transmit the file electronically, but the Massachusetts RMV wanted the paper form.  All paper copies of these notices were logged in a timely fashion with the PDPS. The paper copies represent duplicate notifications.”