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DPS is due for an overhaul, report concludes

AUSTIN -- A three-month, $1 million study of the Department of Public Safety calls for a "fundamental makeover" of the law enforcement agency, including an overhaul of its cumbersome chain-of-command, improvements in intelligence-gathering and counter-terrorism, and customer-friendly driver's license services.

"DPS is not well organized to meet the challenges it faces today," said the 68-page report by Deloitte Consulting, which identified "a number of significant problems" within the 8,000-employee department. "Its basic organizational structure has not changed in over half a century."

The findings mirror many of the recommendations made in May by the Sunset Advisory Commission, a legislative panel that monitors the performance of state agencies, and could likely lead to a restructuring of the DPS after the next session of the Legislature begins in mid-January.

State Rep. Carl H. Isett, R-Lubbock, chairman of the 12-member commission, said through a spokeswoman that commission members will "digest the information" and prepare legislation for the upcoming session.

Created in 1935, the DPS includes the legendary Texas Rangers, the Highway Patrol and branches that dispense driver's licenses and issue concealed-carry permits. But the department has come under harsh scrutiny after an arsonist breached its security perimeter at the Governor's Mansion on June 8, hurling a Molotov cocktail that ignited a devastating fire at the 152-year-old building.

The study by the national consulting firm said that the department's law enforcement operations "are fragmented across several divisions," with many units performing similar functions independently of each other.

And cumbersome chains of command and antiquated technology "slow decision-making and hamper information sharing," the outside analysts said, with anti-terrorism and intelligence capabilities limited and scattered throughout the organization.

In one finding that should resonate with millions of Texas motorists, the report recommended improvements within the driver's license division to enable applicants to use credit cards as a form of payment, now prohibited, and to expand Internet access to improve customer service and minimize wait times.

Composed of 256 field offices, the driver's license division is the second-largest within the DPS but "the public perception of visiting a driver's license branch is less-than-pleasant," said the report. "Lines are long and information systems are antiquated," said the study. "The facilities themselves are old and crowded."

The five-member Public Safety Commission that oversees the DPS hired Deloitte to conduct the study at a cost of $950,000 to taxpayers to develop a blueprint to guide the department's modernization effort. The commission will review the report at its next meeting on Nov. 24, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange.

The consultants outlined a phased "road map" to implement the major recommendations within two years, starting with an intensive 100-day program that includes hiring a new director and organizing a new management team. The department has been without a permanent director since Aug. 31 when Col. Tommy Davis Jr. retired after eight years as chief. Col. Stan Clark is interim director.

Key recommendations include organizing all law enforcement functions under a single deputy director and creating a new intelligence and counter-terrorism division. The consultants also called for the creation of a special-operations unit combining special weapons and tactics, protective services and counter-surveillance.

Another deputy director would oversee the agency's regulatory duties, including driver's licenses, vehicle inspections, concealed handgun licensing and private security licensing.

The report suggested that the agency has failed to keep pace with changing times and the modern-day emergence of terrorist groups, drug cartels, identity thieves and organized gangs. Seven years after 9-11, the DPS "still has a major problem in the way it gathers, analyzes, manages and shares information," said the study.

The DPS also faces a "major challenge" in retaining and recruiting employees and was plagued by a 9 percent turnover rate last year. At least a dozen top-level retirements have created a "leadership vacuum," but the departures create the opportunity to hire a "skilled and visionary leadership team," said the study.

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