A Day in the Life of a Secretary of State Employee
Office of Performance and Transformation's Communication Representative Monica Drake will be following different State of Michigan employees throughout the year.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Michigan Secretary of State is that the revenue collected from license and vehicle fees all goes directly into the department’s pocket.
Assistant Administrator James Fackler said, “On a given day, we do about 80,000 transactions, and, each year, we collect just under $3 billion worth of revenue. But most of it goes to other agencies.”
The Department of State (DOS) keeps less than 10 percent of the revenue. The remainder, depending on the type of transaction, is delegated to the General Fund, Michigan Department of Treasury, the Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), or the Michigan State Police (MSP).
“We work for the citizens of Michigan, but we don’t set the fee or have some sort of invested interest in the amount of the fee. It’s all statutory,” said Fackler.
The DOS is made up of the Customer Service Administration, the Legal Services Administration, the Department Services Administration, the Bureau of Elections, the Executive Office, the Office of Policy Initiatives, and the Office of Communications. Fackler is the assistant administrator of the Customer Service Administration (CSA), which he describes as the “public facing piece of our department.”
The CSA is responsible for the oversight of approximately 900 employees in 131 branch offices. These employees issue driver licenses, license plates and tabs, vehicle titles, disability permits and personal ID cards; register voters; register recreational vehicles; and provide organ donor information.
The CSA also has another 350 plus employees that handle things outside the branch structure. These are the things most people associate with DOS – but there is so much more that CSA is responsible for. They process Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) filings, issue vehicle plate fees for interstate commercial trucks, add convictions and suspensions to driving records, Renewal by Mail to handle customer transactions, run a 70-person phone center handling around 8,000 calls a day, and process court orders for Child Support suspensions and mandatory driver’s license actions that result from alcohol and drug crime convictions. They oversee driver’s education, motorcycle training, and driver assessment reexaminations of drivers who display unsafe driving performance based on too many points on their license, crashes, or potential medical issues. The DOS has a special internal branch that handles customers who are out of state (military personnel, snowbirds, travelers, etc.), and they are even the repository for the state’s registered cattle brands.
“We service everybody. Sooner or later, you’ll have to set foot in one of our branches. We try to give people a positive experience by being professional and courteous and doing the job as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Fackler, who previously worked as a Legislative Analyst and Legislative Liaison for the Office of Government Affairs for 13 years before coming to CSA in 2013.
For the staff working at the DOS branches or at the call center, Fackler knows it’s not an easy job.
“They are dealing with the public and trying to stay positive for eight or 10 hours a day when some of the people on the other side of the counter aren’t very happy to be there,” he said.
One way CSA has improved customer satisfaction is through MI-TIME, which launched in 2014 and has been used to complete more than 8 million transactions since. Through MI-TIME, a customer can schedule the day, time, and branch location and reserve a spot in line on the computer, phone, or at a kiosk.
The CSA has also increased their alternative services with online transaction opportunities (ExpressSOS.com) and the ability through self-service terminals (SSTs) at branches to do plate renewals without waiting in line.
“What most people don’t like about our branches is feeling trapped. This gives them the ability to hold a place in line and receive text message updates on how long the wait is. You can wait at home or go shopping or get a coffee nearby,” Fackler said. “You may have still waited for two hours, but you didn’t wait for two hours at the branch. Instead, you waited for 15 minutes at the branch.”
A piece of Fackler’s job at CSA is to handle customer concerns and complaints that have come through the call center or from the branches but haven’t been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.
“Driver’s licenses and vehicle registration are emotional topics. It’s all about money and about time, and we know it can be frustrating,” he said. “My experience is that most people just want to talk to someone and feel like someone is really trying to get their problem resolved.”
An example of a call that Fackler helped resolved was a woman who was issued a ticket in Michigan after moving to New York.
“She never knew she got a ticket, and the notice of suspension was sent to her last address. Am I really going to suspend this person’s license for moving to New York? Sometimes it takes someone at a higher level to look at what’s really happening,” he said.
Fackler and the staff at CSA work diligently to provide solutions to customer problems such as these. One common issue is that, for citizens who may be homeless, grew up in foster homes, or have a mental disability, it may be difficult to obtain all the required documentation to obtain a Michigan driver’s license or state identification card.
“We help them as best as we can and provide them with resources they may not have access to otherwise,” he said.
“We touch people’s lives every day.”