BOSTON (SHNS) – With lawmakers eyeing a second oversight hearing this fall, the auditing firm hired by the Baker administration to review lapses in oversight of out-of-state driving violations at the Registry of Motor Vehicles has been granted an extension to complete its work.
The final report from Grant Thornton was expected to be completed by last Friday, but the administration came to an agreement with the firm on an extension, transportation officials confirmed.
No new completion date was provided.
In the meantime, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation told the Committee on Transportation last week that the agency intends to fully comply with the committee’s request for documents and internal communications by Sept. 25, about two months after lawmakers began seeking records tied to the RMV scandal.
The agency’s general counsel Marie Breen sent an email to the committee on Thursday afternoon, the same day MassDOT delivered a new batch of documents.
“MassDOT continues to gather and provide documents requested by the committee, on several dates starting in July has sent members a total of more than 512,000 pages of responsive documents, has provided with each production an inventory list, and has informed the committee that as of September 25 all requested documents will be provided,” MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said.
The timeline for MassDOT to fully comply with the committee’s request for communications between employees and documents comes more than a month after Rep. William Straus and Sen. Eric Lesser, the co-chairs of the Transportation Committee, wrote to Pollack to tell her the committee was “losing confidence” in the administration’s commitment to cooperate.
Straus told the News Service last week that MassDOT has “piecemealed” its response to the committee’s request for records, turning over troves of documents, many of them duplicates, on flash drives “always after 4 p.m., on many, many days.”
The documents provided by the administration have also been in formats that are not searchable, requiring the committee staff to run time-consuming conversion software, Straus said.
One such batch of documents was handed over on Wednesday. Another showed up at 4:20 p.m. on Thursday.
“They have sent us thousands of pages and it takes literally hours upon hours, if not days, to convert them over before we can even analyze them,” Straus said. “I can’t say it’s by design, but by effect it would have been hard to come up with a method of responding that would have presented more obstacles to us finding out and reviewing and analyzing what is in all these documents.”
Asked if he was frustrated, Straus said, “That’s charitable, I’m not just frustrated. I’m worried.”
Straus said the longer it takes to gather and review the information, the more time before the Legislature and the public can feel comfortable that the RMV has rectified the technological and personnel gaps that allowed a driver whose license should have been suspended to slip through the cracks and cause a fatal accident in New Hampshire.
MassDOT said that only 12,000 pages turned over to the committee have been paper documents, and that the information provided “on several dates” was in searchable PDF formats with an Excel inventory list to assist committee members in locating information of interest.
As for how long the process has taken, the agency said it has had to review thousands upon thousands of pages and make legal redactions, sometimes reviewing documents that are years old and not easily accessible.
The law firm Greenberg Traurig has been hired by MassDOT to handle the legislature’s record request, according to officials.
Straus echoed his co-chair Lesser, who discussed the Legislature’s investigation in a recent WCVB interview, saying that the committee intends to have a second public hearing.
In addition to calling the three witnesses that the committee did not get to question in July from Grant Thornton, Fast Technologies and the State Police, Straus said, “The documented information we have been getting suggests there will need to be additional witnesses myself and my co-chair would want to call.”
He said he did not want to “speculate” at this point who those witnesses might be.
Straus said that in addition to concerns that the committee may not be receiving all communications sent through private email channels, there are specific documents that he believes exist but has not yet seen.
“One of the other documents we have near certainty exists but has not been produced is what’s called an audit scoping letter or agreement that would have occurred before the Merit Rating Board audit that (MassDOT auditor Brie-Anne) Dwyer conducted in January,” Straus said last Thursday.
The Boston Herald reported Monday on one email the committee reportedly has received documenting the concern of an RMV hearing officer in July 2018 that the computer system used to track driving violations had “serious problems.”
The registry has admitted that thousands of out-of-state violation notices were placed into storage and went unreviewed due to staffing and prioritization decisions made as the baglog of notices grew.
Part of the delay in Grant Thornton completing its investigation could be the time its taken to comply with legislative record requests.
The firm made clear in its interim report that it wanted to see every document turned over to the Legislature for its own purposes, and MassDOT said the extension was “mutually agreed to” in order to give the firm “additional time needed for the firm to review recently requested documents.”