A photo in the Houston Chronicle this week shows some of the hundreds of people waiting in line to get a driver's license at a Department of Public Safety (DPS) office. Lining up to apply for a driver's license is never a pleasant experience, but this month it got even worse when DPS abruptly announced cuts in business hours at 11 of the state's busiest driver's license offices, along with plans to lay off more than 100 employees.
Following the Houston Chronicle story, and pushback from upset drivers, DPS reversed course Tuesday, announcing extended hours would resume. A DPS statement said that since the legislature had cut the DPS budget, the agency would have to explore other options for increasing efficiency.
State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) says that if DPS needs more money to keep driver's license offices staffed and open, the agency's leaders should advocate for more money from lawmakers. The agency's mandate to provide border security, though funded separately from driver's licenses, is prioritized differently by state leaders than driver's license centers, Whitmire says.
"The leadership of the state does direct [DPS] to do everything they can along the border," he says. "Tell us what you need to secure the border. The leadership never says, tell us what you need to have efficient driver's license offices."
Whitmire says DPS priorities can be seen in the agency's proposals to the Senate Finance Committee, on which he serves.
"They may spend 30-45 minutes on border security and what resources – and sometimes you might want to call them toys – boats, airplanes, cars, etc.," he says. "And their presentation for the driver's license office might be five or 10 minutes."
Whitmire puts it more bluntly: "The driver's license division of DPS, without dispute, is the stepchild of the agency, and they get funded like a stepchild."
The solution, Whitmire says, is to engage lawmakers in an effort to place more emphasis on the driver's license division and its work.
"It's one of the direct services that we provide to the public," Whitmire says. "Working people do not have time to go wait in hour-long lines, sometimes multiple hours."
Written by Shelly Brisbin.