In CBS4 interview, head of BMV responds to overcharges topping $100 million, promises transparency

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INDIANAPOLIS (Oct. 14, 2015) – Days after court documents revealed more overcharges for Hoosier motorists, Bureau of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Kent Abernathy tells CBS4 change within the agency will take time.

Abernathy, a former top-ranking Pentagon official now eight months on the job, was appointed by Gov. Mike Pence in February to fix the agency’s mess, which dates back decades.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Abernathy said in an interview with CBS4. “It’s going to take some time.”

Abernathy testified before lawmakers last week about the new reforms underway, after an external audit released in May found Hoosier drivers had been overcharged more than $60 million.

The audit found the agency lacked oversight and decades of bureaucracy had created a fee structure so confusing, it led to the millions of dollars in overcharges and undercharges.

“I think citizens can be reassured that it won’t be kept internally,” Abernathy said. “We’re identifying the issues. We’re bringing them up.”

But what agency officials didn’t tell lawmakers are new claims revealed in court documents filed days before their testimony, showing the BMV recently admitted to overcharging motorists for 112 more services during the past decade. The overcharges include vehicle registration and license fees.

The total overcharges now exceed $100 million, according to the documents and attorneys representing BMV customers in the ongoing lawsuit. A court-ordered mediation session is scheduled for Monday.

Abernathy said he can’t comment on the specifics of the pending litigation, pointing to a statement from the attorney representing the BMV, claiming the revelations aren’t new. The attorney added the BMV had been acknowledging overcharges and undercharges for the past two years.

“I think if you look, and the stories report, this was information that’s happened in the past,” Abernathy said. “It’s looking backwards, and again we’re looking forwards.”

Abernathy has assembled an entirely new leadership team and said he is focusing his efforts on changing the agency’s culture internally.

“Our staff is required by policy change to report those issues as they come up,” he said.

The agency is working with lawmakers on legislation for the upcoming session that would overhaul the current code that manages the 1,200 different fees and taxes.

“There’s still details to be worked out,” said State Rep. Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis), one of the agency’s harshest critics. “And we’re a long way from being done, but I’m optimistic about where we’re headed.”

Abernathy said when he came on board, “they gave me an example of a particular transaction. You had to flip through eight pages of the code.”

The legislation is part of an overall target by agency heads to reset the agency.

“What I can tell folks is we now have a process in place where we identify issues, we report them,” Abernathy said.

Yet he wouldn’t say definitely if other erroneous charges have been identified since taking over in February.

“Again, that’s where we have the process in place to deal with these things as they occur on an ongoing basis.”

Both Abernathy and lawmakers agree concrete changes will take several years, both from an agency and legislative perspective.

“Until we get the fee structure totally under control, which I’m hoping will happen next session,” Forestal said. “It’s going to be hard to have a whole lot of confidence in the process.”

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