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Texas DPS needs makeover, report finds

The Texas Department of Public Safety is understaffed and not ready for terrorism, according to a scathing report released Friday (May 23) by the the Sunset Advisory Commission.

The report also found that only 35 percent of calls to the DPS customer service center get answered. The average wait time to speak with a real person is 13.5 minutes, so most people hang up in frustration. In addition, the agency's vehicle inspection program isn't supervised well enough to prevent fraudulent annual stickers from being issued, according to the report.

Those were among the highlights (or lowlights) of a 114-page report by the commission, a group of lawmakers that sizes up state agencies.

The report concludes that DPS is necessary but needs a makeover. In particular, DPS should transfer non-police duties to civilian managers -- and perform those duties more like a business, and less like a bureaucracy.

"We are tying up lots of troopers, and that talent could be served out on the roads, protecting the roads," said state Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, who serves on the commission.

Brimer envisions remolding DPS into an agency that focuses on two areas: highway patrol, and intelligence work such as thwarting drug dealers and gangs.

Agency officials declined to discuss the report. "We are preparing our response, which is due to the Sunset Commission on June 9," spokeswoman Tela Mange said.

Mitchel Roth, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has written a history of DPS, said the department's organization has not changed significantly.

"Since it was created in 1935, there has been times of shifting of divisions and cutting back on staff or adding some, but nothing major," Roth said. "And any time you have a large bureaucracy there are going to be holes."

The agency's future is expected to be a hot topic during the 2009 legislative session, which begins in January in Austin.

Read the report here (PDF).