EDITORIAL: Government offices should work to consolidate

Technological advances are enabling people to conduct more of their business online, reducing their need to go to the store, to the library for research, or to government offices for various purposes. The reduced traffic at those offices should inspire government agencies to consolidate their offices under one roof to increase efficiency.

One agency ripe for consolidation is the Texas Department of Public Safety.

As ordered by the Texas Constitution, a Sunset Commission periodically reviews state agencies to determine if they are still needed and performing they way they should, and if their charters should be renewed or allowed to expire.

One agency up for sunset review this year is the DPS, the state law enforcement agency that also issues drivers’ licenses and identification cards, among other duties. The DPS itself recommended closing 87 of its more than 200 licensing offices, after the commission’s review found that the agency was not maximizing resources to improve customer service.

The commission rejected the DPS proposal to shutter the offices, including the Palmview office west of Mission. The panel noted that many of the targeted offices were in rural areas where low-income residents would have an unreasonable burden traveling long distances to other DPS offices. Some offices on the list were the only ones in their respective counties.

Instead, the commission recommended that the agency and state legislators consider other offices that can issue licenses and perform functions that would allow the DPS to close locations that are underutilized.

Some of that already is occurring. Many Texans can renew licenses or change their address online, by mail or by phone. New or expired licenses still require a personal visit where the applicant is photographed and fingerprints and signatures are taken. Driver testing, both written and in the vehicle, can be done at driving schools that are certified to do so, making the visit to get the actual license shorter and easier.

The photo and biometric functions could be farmed out to an agency, or private vendor, that can also serve passport and immigration offices that need the same information for their respective clients.

Such agencies with related functions or requirements might consider operating under a single roof where they could share a receptionist, security and overhead costs. The public, especially new residents who need to establish or transfer several accounts at once, might prefer having a single location to serve their needs.

Consolidation would enable agencies to sell off excess property, further saving taxpayers money. Better yet, it would enable all agencies to maintain a public presence in their communities, even if the number of visits doesn’t justify a stand-alone structure for each.

The Sunset Commission was right to point out inefficiencies in the Department of Public Safety, and to seek to ensure that necessary public services would not be compromised before any offices are closed down. A little creativity, and willingness to work with other agencies, should enable the DPS to meet both goals of improved efficiency and continued services to the public.