Gov. Mitch Daniels discusses missteps, mistakes made during 2 terms in statehouse

New welfare, BMV systems brought backlash

INDIANAPOLIS - When Gov. Mitch Daniels leaves office next month, he'll do so with a long record of changes and accomplishments, but Daniels admits it wasn't all a joy ride.

Several of the governor’s initiatives didn't turn out the way he wanted.

He talked about those in the second installment of RTV6 Reporter Norman Cox’s farewell interview with Daniels.

Daniels said he made lots of mistakes, but he cited two in particular that both occurred early in his time as governor. 

Daniels said both happened because subordinates insisted on moving forward with changes that either weren't ready for implementation or didn't work at all.

The first thing Daniels cited, his plan to modernize and privatize the welfare system, produced big protests by recipients and by advocates for the poor.

It eliminated much of the human contact between clients and caseworkers and forced recipients to deal with a computerized system to apply for and get benefits. 

It didn't work, leaving many without benefits and resulting in a multi-million dollar lawsuit between the state and IBM.

"We accepted a design that looked so good on paper,” said Daniels. “But it was just too complicated to work in practice when you're trying to administer it over millions of people. But we learned from it, fixed it the second time, and now we've got one of the best systems in the country. But, you know, it's always better to have done it right the very first time."

The other mishap was the update of the BMV. 

Commissioner Joel Silverman insisted on implementing a new computer system that wasn't ready. 

It produced huge lines, drivers without licenses or vehicle registrations, and some people even being told by the BMV that they were dead.

"We made some mistakes at the outset," Daniels said. "We didn't go overnight from a terrible system to the best in America.  We turned on the new computer system before it was ready. Lots of trial and error."

Silverman, who also angered legislators with a massive branch closing program that he sprang on them with no notice, eventually quit. 

Daniels conceded that Silverman lacked communication skills, but he said the eventual outcome was a significantly improved BMV, and he doesn't apologize for tackling those problems head-on.

"In government, just like the rest of life, if you're going to tackle big problems, you're probably not going to shoot a bull's-eye the first time every time," he said. "And our attitude in this administration was, we were going to take things on. We weren't going to shrink away. And we said at the outset, when you do that, sometimes you're going to have to back up and try something a second time. And I still think that's the right approach."

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