Shortage of examiners means closure, cutbacks at state motor vehicle offices

Union seeks higher pay; DMV director blames workforce shortage, multiple issues

By: - May 25, 2022 1:34 pm
DMV

The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters is in Lincoln. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN – Nebraskans need to be flexible if they’re seeking to take a state driver’s test.

Due to a shortage of driver examiners at the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles, about 30 DMV offices across the state, mostly in rural areas, have closed temporarily or seen hours cut back. The closures have prompted frustration and disappointment and have forced customers to drive to other counties to take tests.

It’s the latest example of how Nebraska’s tight labor market, and low unemployment rate, is making it harder to fill vacant positions.

Problems statewide

State prisons have had to go to 12-hour shifts and raise wages to deal with short staffing, and just recently, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission announced that hours at some state parks are being cut back after the agency has been able to hire only about half of its necessary summer personnel.

The state employee’s union thinks the problem is low pay, and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees recently asked the state to renegotiate the starting wage for drivers license examiners, which is now $16.48 an hour.

“That’s not going to cut it,” said Justin Hubly, executive director of NAPE. He said staff shortages at DMV have been a problem in the past, despite a 10% increase in the starting wage bargained two years ago.

Rhonda Lahm, the director of DMV, said it’s more complicated than just salary.

‘Multiple issues’

We’re experiencing what most employers are experiencing right now,” Lahm said, adding that “it’s never one issue. It’s multiple issues.”

To deal with the staff shortages, Lahm said the DMV has tried to maintain normal hours at its five-day-a-week locations, which are in larger counties like Douglas and Lancaster. Closing of rural offices, she said, is rotated so there is some availability of the tests.

Lahm said she is also prioritizing testing for commercial drivers licenses, or CDLs, to get truck drivers on the road to help with the nation’s supply chain problems.

At least a couple of rural counties that typically see a drivers license examiner once or twice a week, haven’t seen an examiner for weeks.

According to the DMV website, no driving tests were scheduled in Antelope, Knox and Cedar Counties during the months of April and May. 

Directed to other counties

Antelope County Treasurer Deb Branstiter said it’s been an inconvenience but said her office has been able to redirect people to nearby counties that are still offering DMV testing.

Tests are schedusetled to resume in those three counties in June, when a new examiner is scheduled to begin working. 

“We’re looking forward to having a driver’s license examiner back,” Branstiter said.

In Dakota County, the typical five-day-a-week offering of DMV testing has been cut back to twice a week, due to a staff shortage and the recent death of an examiner.

Customers are understandably frustrated, said Dakota County Treasurer Dawn Bousquet. Finding new employees is a nationwide problem, she said.

‘Trying the best they can’

I feel terrible for (DMV),” Bousquet said. “They’re trying the best they can to get people trained and get going.”

Lahm said most people can go online to renew their driver’s licenses and access several other services. Persons 72 or older must do an in-person driving test, she said. Drivers between the ages of 21 and 71 only need to do a driving test once every 15 years.

The department has about 17 job openings, which Lahm said is only slightly higher than normal. 

She encouraged job seekers to give the DMV a try.

“If you want to work for a really great department, go to the Nebraska Jobs site to apply,” Lahm said.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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