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Drowning in red tape at the DMV

January 18, 2008

Normally when I write I try to avoid using clichés (although I suppose even saying that is sort of cliché). Nothing is worse than trite, predictable blogging. And even though we write a lot about government workers and their tendencies, one government worker I have refrained from mocking is the DMV customer service rep. Until now.

I needed to convert my license, registration, and plates from Ohio to the District of Columbia. The process is painful from the start. If you are like me and moved to DC with a car registered in another state, there are several steps that must be taken, in order, to succeed with the DMV:

  1. Go to DMV. Wait several hours for stars to align. Pay random fees. Fill out DC voter registration form; become disenfranchised. Get a DC driver’s license.
  2. Take car and DC driver’s license to Car Inspection Office (which, logically, is not in the same location as the DMV office). Wait several hours. Pay random fees. Get a Inspection Certificate upon successful inspection.
  3. Drag yourself back down to the DMV. Wait several hours. Find ways to stave off soul-crushing despair and hopelessness. Present Inspection Certificate to the DMV gods and hope they approve. Pay significant random fees. Get DC tags and plates.
  4. Drive to nearest bar. Drink.

I took the day off to do all this. After gathering the approximately 341 documents needed to prove my (1) identity; (2) my Social Security number; and (3) my address (along with my Department of Defense issued ID cards, for good measure), and filling out the driver’s license application from the DMV website, I headed out.

After getting to the DMV, going through security (who made me throw away my coffee, but did not make me put anything through a metal detector), I took a deep breath and entered the bowels of local government. Fearing for the worst, I was not disappointed.

It was crowded and smelled like mold and body odor. I waited patiently for my turn, having the foresight to stop and pick up a newspaper on the way. When I finally got up to the customer service agent. I presented my application as well as all my forms of identification, and began to pray. Everything was going well until he asked for my proof of SSN. That requires either your original Social Security card, or two other official documents with your SSN. Not having my SS card here, I brought my W-2 and Ohio license, per the DMV application and reprinted below verbatim:

Proof of Social Security Number
Secondary Sources (two required) – must be original:

  • Payroll statement issued within the last 12 months containing name and Social Security Number.
  • United States military identification card or discharge papers (DD-214).
  • Unexpired health insurance card reflecting applicant’s full name and Social Security Number.
  • Unexpired identification card issued by government agency reflecting full name and social security number.
  • IRS W-2 (wage and tax statement) issued within the last 12 months.
  • Original letter or correspondence from the IRS or DC Office of Tax and Revenue referencing Social Security Number received within the last 12 months.
  • Government-certified copy of Federal or State tax return filed in one of the last two tax years.

My mistake was that I assumed my Ohio driver’s license, issued by the Ohio DMV and bearing my full name and SSN, would count as an ID card “issued by a government agency.” It does not. Why one DMV does not recognize another DMV as a government agency is beyond me. When I inquired as to why this was, the following interaction transpired between me and the agent:

Me: I’m a little bit confused as to why my driver’s license doesn’t count.

Agent: We don’t even look at that.

Me: Don’t look at it? If you did look at it, you would notice it has both my name and my SSN.

Agent: I’m sorry sir, we don’t even look at that.

Me: I want to talk to you supervisor.

[Supervisor waddles over, inspects my documents, and shakes her head slowly]

Supervisor: Sorry sir, but that doesn’t count. We don’t really look at that. Don’t you have any of the other documents listed?

Me: No. I have a health insurance card and pay stub, but they don’t have my SSN on them, so I did not bring them with me.

Supervisor: Yeah, ours don’t show SSN anymore either. But if you go home and bring back your pay statement we will accept that, even though it does not have your SSN on it.

Me: Let me get this straight. You will not accept my government-issued driver’s license with my SSN on it as proof of my SSN, but you will accept a pay stub that does not have my SSN on it as proof that my SSN is what I am telling you it is.

Supervisor: Yes sir.

If I had a samurai sword I would have committed seppuku right there. I have never been more frustrated. I have no idea where the line “We don’t really look at that” came from, or what it even means. Why don’t they look at that? IT’S. RIGHT. THERE.

There is no way I was going to go home, bring back a SSN-less pay stub to prove my SSN, wait in all those lines again, only to get a different agent and/or supervisor who tells me I am nuts. The whole plan is on hold now. I will have to go next Saturday morning once I get my SSN card from my parents and waste a whole day at the stupid DMV. Now I understand why people make fun of the DMV so much.

The moral of the story: Sometimes stereotypes are true, and fully justified. Go the DMV at your own risk. It is truly an awful, awful place.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. andy permalink*
    January 18, 2008 12:02 pm

    5. Drive home drunk as hell to spite government and random motorists/pedestrians in your path.

    Luckily for me (and anyone who happens to mug me) I carry my SS card around in my wallet. This surprises most people, who chastise me, but let me tell you, it’s ever the fucking convenient thing to always have this card on you.

  2. Keri permalink
    January 18, 2008 12:06 pm

    great. I’m so not looking forward to this. I have to do it eventually. And I have my work cut out for me – don’t have my original social security card or anything, really , with the number on it. First thing I have to do – get another social security card. What do you think that entails? You have to have it to get a passport – I have a passport – will that work? Probably not.

  3. Ashley permalink
    January 18, 2008 12:15 pm

    Remember when I was telling you guys about how awful it was to go through the DC DMV? And then remember when Seth went and said that it wasn’t bad at all? Yeah. I win.

    I get to face the Ohio DMV next weekend. There is no possible way, however, that it could compare with the DC DMV. We don’t have to do a vehicle inspection, everything is at one location, you can fill out all the forms ahead of time online, and the website tells you the wait for each location before you go. Not to mention the fees are minimal in comparison.

    Also, if a drivers license does not count as an ID card issued by a government agency, why can you be charged with falsifying or tampering with a government document if you modify your ID or get a fake? Of course it’s a government ID!!!!! Ugh, now I’m angry. Fucking damons.

    Note to Keri: In order to get a new social security card, all you have to do is go to an office listed online and fill out a form that is literally a half sheet long. Then they mail it to you in 110-12 business days. I mean… aren’t those essentially more valuable than a drivers license? AND THAT’S ALL IT TAKES?!?!?!


  4. Alex permalink
    January 18, 2008 12:26 pm

    I got my license renewed here in DC about 2 or 3 months ago. I didn’t take a day off so I ended up going on Saturday. There is only one DMV open on Saturday that I could go to. It is down by the “Navy Yard” metro station. I got there around noon and the line was wrapped all the way behind the building. It took about 2 and a half hours to get through all the lines. I almost had some of the same problems you had. My SSN card doesn’t have the same name as my passport has. Thankfully I had one of the brighter DMV agents working with me and it was no problem.

    On the weekend there is only 1 DMV open so everyone goes there. I would bring a book and a nice warm coat. Good luck

  5. stager permalink
    January 23, 2008 6:51 pm

    um just go to the georgetown dmv. on a weekday afternoon. you will be in and out in less than 30 minutes. unless, of course, they spell your name “ABDREW” and you have to wait another 45 minutes for them to load more ID blanks into the machine and spell your name right.

  6. Ashley permalink
    January 31, 2008 9:12 am

    UPDATE: Made it through the Ohio BMV. Went it at 5:00 PM and with everything I needed to get done (title, registration, written exam, license, voter registration, etc) it took me exactly 32 minutes to get in and out of the door. I thanked them as I left and they were shocked when I told them of my horror stories in DC. Bless the Midwest.

  7. April 15, 2009 10:16 am

    Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is a lot more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on SU telling that the info here is quite decent. Thanks.

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