The DMV . . . Asleep at the Wheel: An Immigrant's View of Scandalous Government Waste

The DMV . . . Asleep at the Wheel: An Immigrant's View of Scandalous Government Waste

by Mariam "The Mighty" Noujaim


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524688929
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 10/23/2017
Pages: 226
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.48(d)

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Quite simply, I've always been a fighter. I was born with one of those spirits that just won't let me ignore injustice when I see it. I can't help myself. Some people can just put up and shut up. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them. Life would be so easy if I could just live my life with blinders on, ignoring the pain and suffering of others. But that's just not me.

I was raised by a mom who taught me and my brothers to waste nothing.

She was brilliant at turning a tight budget into surplus. Mom did the unthinkable: she recycled matches. Yes, matches! It also helps that I was born and raised in Egypt, during a time when women's rights were rising in Europe and America, but not in the Middle East.

How my tendency to try to right wrongs ended up playing a decade long crusade of fighting government waste comes from fighting oppression. I won't be held down. Every day, I wake up, still fighting, with a bundle of fresh ideas. My friends are always telling me to give it up, not because they don't believe in me but because they care about me and know how much it takes out of me. They've nicknamed me the Warrior, and I guess it fits because they know I won't stop until I achieve my objectives.

My main goal is to defend taxpayers from wasteful government spending and outdated costly procedures. I always see the possibilities of where we can do better and how government can solve problems instead of contributing to the problem.

If democracy can't survive financially, it can't survive at all. I see many Americans, comfortable and reasonably happy with their life, so they are no longer motivated to actively participate in their democracy. Laziness is dangerous! People look the other way when they see the waste or wrongdoings at work. They might mistakenly feel, "It is not my money or problem." But when they get their pay or benefits cut because the state does not have enough money, they get mad and blame the government or someone else. No! Blame yourself for digging your head in the sand. We need you participating in the process.

I am an immigrant. I was not born in the lap of luxury, and I do not take my good job for granted. I have seen real poverty and suffering up close in several countries. I believe America is the greatest country on earth, but I believe it is at serious risk of driving over the cliff of indifference, and it'll find a very painful landing at the bottom.

I've been working in the public sector for more than two decades, but my fight really began in 2010 during the fiscal tsunami of the Great Recession, when the state government employee furloughs started in California. I realized that government and labor unions could be part of the solution if we all tightened our belts. I learned they weren't trying to hear what I had to say. So I got louder. And I got louder. And I keep getting louder.

My retirement plans are always getting foiled because every year I see another injustice, another battle to fight. I think to myself, I have to stay and fight this.

I am grateful to those who have joined me in this fight because one person alone cannot change an embedded culture of fiscal negligence It takes a large number of concerned citizens from all rank and file to bring about change, and my hope in writing this book is to see those numbers of workers who really do care get involved. I know you're out there. Most are still too frightened to take action against the status quo, but I just want everyone to participate in the truth.

I want to give thanks to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for employing me. I am blessed with a steady state job, and because of this, I have been able to live the American dream. I am an entrepreneur who has been able to build other businesses while working a swing shift as a clerk at the DMV headquarters in Sacramento.

As I stated at the beginning, all the opinions in this book, unless otherwise noted, are my own. I do not speak for the DMV. I speak only for myself and for a small group of citizens who see the "fatigue of democracy" as very dangerous.

With each story in this book, my colleagues will recognize the truthfulness. In my humble opinion, the waste is so unbelievable that it simply becomes comedy at times. I hope by speaking my mind many of you, from either the public or private sector, will join our effort to make a difference.

So that's why I fight. It's not for me or about me. It's for the principles this country was founded on.

This is a war worth fighting for.



Cairo, Egypt. Back in the day.

If you've never been to Cairo, you haven't seen traffic. It's pure chaos — a chaos that's filled with donkey carts,

Street vendors, camels, and drivers who prefer not to drive within the lines. In fact, they like driving on sidewalks. The honking of horns is a constant Cairo serenade from dusk till dawn.

Public transportation at any hour of the day is overcrowded. I remember seeing people hanging on the back of the public buses. If they slip, they fall on the street and could get run over by another car. Also, you could see passengers climb on top of the public transportation buses' roof for a seat.

These are vivid memories I carry with me still today. I too could be found on the roof of cars, as my mom — a spirited, independent woman — had us hop on top of the roof of our old French made Citroën to make room for our neighbors

Pedestrians risked their lives daily by crisscrossing streets from any location. There were no crosswalks or any respect for the stoplights. Pedestrians naturally mingled with the cars and the traffic and learned how to survive.

When driving these crazy streets, you don't know where to look, whether it's paying attention to the pedestrians or to the cars or the street vendors or donkey carts or whatever you might find hurtling into your path.

Whether behind the wheel or on foot, you were on your own!

In 1973, I created a scandal by being the first woman to drive a motorcycle in Cairo.

I remember driving on the sidewalks to avoid the bottlenecks. I'd beep at the pedestrians to get out of my way. Nadine, a childhood friend of mine, had the courage to ride behind me. We both hid our gender by wearing a helmet, a thick jacket, and gloves. It was important for us to be unrecognizable as women because this wasn't a particularly enlightened era.

We would venture into the traffic and streets of Cairo. Often we would run red lights, a thing quite common in Cairo. Nadine would cover my license plate so the policeman wouldn't be able to read it and, therefore, can't give me a ticket. We were rebels but were following the rules of the road as far as Cairo was concerned: fast and furious, zipping around everyone and everything.

At the time, the humble traffic policemen were very poorly equipped. They didn't have police cars or motorcycles to arrest us or run after us. So all that the policeman could do, mad as hell, is blow the whistle as hard as he could, waving his fist, to scare us. We would laugh and zip with my little Honda 50cc, waving at the poor soldier.

We did a lot of crazy things on my motorcycle. We thought it was very funny at the time. Of course, we wouldn't do that in our neighborhood because the policeman knew very well who I was and where I lived.

Remember, no girls drove motorcycles in the seventies. The following year, Inas, another childhood girlfriend, imitated me. She bought an Egyptian made motorcycle and drove it in the streets of Cairo. There was a slight problem: she didn't get a motorcycle license like I did. Inas didn't want to go through the hassle. She didn't care. She knew if she was stopped, she will pay her way with baksheesh. (Later on, you will learn the magic of baksheesh in Egypt. It can make anything vanish or appear.)

Constantly on Alert

As a child, I had to tip the police to help me cross the street on the way to school. Government workers made very little money, and they counted on tips to pay the bills. There were no "crossing guards." Later in life, I would learn that adults at the California Department of Motor Vehicles had the benefit (and luxury!) of a crossing guard, but as a small child, I had no such luxury.

Tipping is normal in Egypt and the Middle East. Here in America, they call it bribery, which is a no-no.

Despite the fact that we lived in a nice area, there was so much congestion you definitely took your life in your hands each time you tried to get to the other side of the street. You not only had to dodge the millions of cars zipping through Cairo, but also you hoped you wouldn't be run over by a taxi or the donkey carts that were weaving through the streets collecting the trash.

This was the Cairo of my youth, and there was always caution ahead.



Anyone who has worked in a bureaucratic setting, or for that matter any office setting, might be able to relate to the tangled web some administrators weave. I've made a career out of trying to fix the things that I think are wrong at the DMV, aspects of the business and computer programming that I think can be improved upon. And the management has made a career of punishing me for my suggestions, sometimes in subtle ways.

For example, a whistle blower or a loudmouth such as myself might suffer the death of a thousand cuts in the form of takeaways, like getting a shift change. I was blessed to secure a swing shift, giving me the hours during the day that I needed to look after my elderly mother and my burgeoning entrepreneurial efforts. But you can never get too comfortable. No matter what I faced, it never stopped me from trying to do the right thing.

My quest to end government waste had its origin in the form of a real person I like to call the Crossing Guard for Adults. Hey, it's a job, right?

I'd worked the swing shift at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento since the early nineties. It is only in 2008 that I noticed the crossing guard when I was taken off the swing shift and I landed on the day shift.

At the same time that decision was made, they were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for overtime to cover a huge backlog caused by a new failed system implementation. They moved my shift along with two other data operators to days.

Now visualize this: they have two supervisors for just eight employees on the swing shift. All they did is crowd the day shift and reduce the ratio of supervisor per employee to one supervisor for each four employees on swing.

What a treat! In a typo-ridden memo, they wrote, "Due to the workload needs, the Key Data Section swing shift is being reassigned to day shift, effective September 1, 2008."

Of course it was the same workload/backlog that was being processed whether working days or swing, but they had to make it look like they were doing something.

What really happened is I lost my beloved swing shift because I had an idea that I thought could save us all millions. No one wants to hear that, yet I was hoping otherwise.

Despite many years in America, I couldn't stop from reflecting on Egypt. I thought to myself, This is just like Egypt bureaucracy. It is just more chic. They have nicer buildings and offices, more stationary, and they have central heating and air. But they have the same GM, or government mentality, the EBs (Egyptian Bureaucrats) have: "It is not my money! I don't care."

Actually, they really don't care. They don't care about the effect of their decision making on the productivity. They don't care about DMV, or the state of California, or the tax dollar. All they care about is clinging to their position and protecting their image. It's about the ego.

And sadly, that is no different than Egypt. In some ways, it is worse. Here in the USA, people are more educated, and they should know better. They also have a lot more resources to waste.

My heart felt heavy when I got kicked off swing shift, because I believed it was because I stood up for the integrity of my department. I felt hurt because I'd been a loyal employee and I didn't realize there was no loyalty back.

By then, my mom was approaching her mid-eighties, and I took care of her each morning. I also had a thriving real estate business that I built during the day, and to say it was a major readjustment in my life is an understatement. But when you take on a bureau-crazy, even if your intentions are good, don't expect a bouquet of roses.

A Defining Moment

My introduction to the Crossing Guard for Adults. What. I couldn't believe my eyes. I had to come closer. A crossing guard on Twenty Fourth Street to help DMV employees cross between the two DMV buildings!

And that was when I spotted the beach chair. And the crossing guard who was sitting in it. I was confused. I looked up the street, and I looked down the street. I didn't see any schools nearby. Just more government buildings. It wasn't a particularly busy street, and I'd already discovered there was a tunnel under the two buildings separated by the street that the employees took to walk between the buildings.

So what exactly was going on?

He couldn't be a crossing guard for adults, could he? No, I just couldn't wrap my mind around that. Maybe he was just here for the day? A special tour guide for a group of tourists visiting the DMV? I held out hope.

I decided to do some investigative work because I couldn't believe the DMV would be so silly they'd spend our tax money on a crossing guard for adults.

It turned out back in 1998, a pedestrian was hit and killed by a car at that intersection, so rather than put in a stop sign, which likely would have cost a couple hundred dollars, they hired an attendant.

The more I looked into it, the more I noticed there are far busier intersections in the same area, with fast food on nearby corners attracting a brisk foot traffic business.

The ultimate absurdity is that directly underneath the crosswalk is the tunnel that employees prefer to use on rainy days when they're going to and from each building. Nevertheless, five days a week, from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., at an expense of $60,000 a year, a man holds a stop sign for adults to cross. As a little girl, I didn't have that luxury. I had to tip a policeman to help me cross streets. As a grown woman watching the DMV crossing guard, I just couldn't help but think there must be a better use of that money or that man's time.

To cap off the irony, just down the street from the crossing guard was a school for the blind that I learned about from my friend Darlene. The blind had no crossing guard.

Sometimes, I even watched the crossing guard as he helped another crossing guard across the street. I saw DMV directors cross with the help of the crossing guards.

I thought to myself, Unbelievable.

One thing I can say about growing up in Egypt: we learned how to cross streets alone.

I thought, If they cannot cross the streets by themselves, should they be running government departments?

Working in the state's capital, people are sensitive to the abuse of taxpayer money. As my friend Dan, who is self employed, said when he learned about the guard, "Is this a justifiable expense or a waste of my tax dollars?"

I think we can agree on the answer.

Now, I'm not making fun of the person who holds the job. I just think there are better uses of the man's time and our dime.

The first time I confronted a guard, he had his cooler beside him and a radio tuned into an AM sports channel. Occasionally, he'd slowly lift himself up and out of the comfort of his lounge chair and escort someone across the street. Couldn't the DMV just install a stop sign for just a few hundred dollars?

As you can imagine, I was curious to know why the crossing guard was sitting there rather than patrolling the entrances. So I approached him.

Working for the DMV is like working for the United Nations: there are dozens of different accents from all corners of the world.

I, for example, have a heavy Egyptian accent with a hint of French due to my education. My friends often mimic my accent: "RRRR you sure? RRReally? Thank you verrrrry much!"


Excerpted from "The DMV ... Asleep at the Wheel"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Mariam Noujaim.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, ix,
Introduction, xiii,
Chapter 1 The Fight, 1,
Chapter 2 Cairo Traffic Caution Ahead!, 4,
Chapter 3 The Saga of the Crossing Guard, 8,
Chapter 4 Visions of America, 19,
Chapter 5 Mouror: A Lesson in DMV Egypt, 29,
Chapter 6 An Educated Woman, 35,
Chapter 7 In the Driver's Seat, 38,
Chapter 8 The State Worker, 45,
Chapter 9 The Big House, 78,
Chapter 10 The Mog'aam'aa of California, Not in America, 81,
Chapter 11 A DMV Diary: My Day to Day Journals, 88,
Chapter 12 Going Digital, 105,
Chapter 13 DMV Going Digital (Sorta), 119,
Chapter 14 The Saga of AB-60, 142,
Chapter 15 The Black Hole, 146,
Chapter 16 Why Government Is Complicated, 150,
Chapter 17 Field Office: The Reality Show, 152,
Chapter 18 A Donkey Cart at the DMV A Janitor's Saga, 156,
Chapter 19 Stop the Insanity!, 177,
Chapter 20 DMV Confidential, 180,
Chapter 21 My Letter to Governor Brown, 189,
Chapter 22 Choose Your Union, 195,
Chapter 23 A Call to Action, 197,
Chapter 24 Free the Worker Transparency and Choice, 199,
Final Thoughts, 203,
Author's Bio, 205,

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