Albany — DEC officials earlier this month took the unique step of urging hunters to hold off purchasing their 2014-15 licenses when they went on sale.
The move – which included a Twitter post recommending that hunters wait “a week or two while we resolve any issues w/the new system” – came as the state continued to grapple with a new E-licensing system.
The new computerized system, part of the state’s overall Shared Services Initiative under which all state licenses will be managed, has had trouble handling the numerous sporting licenses sold to hunters, trappers and anglers. An increased volume of sales – typical when hunting licenses go on sale – has also bogged down the system.
“So far, there has not been a ‘crash’ of the system,” DEC assistant director of fish, wildlife and marine resources Doug Stang said in response to reports the entire system was down. “The system has been slow, but not more so than has been experienced since we initiated license sales with the new system back in January.”
Stang did, however, say the new E-licensing system at this point “does not meet the established performance standards,” and that has led to frustration, complaints and concerns.
Among the biggest headaches since hunting licenses went on sale was problems with the Deer Management Permit selections. DEC intentionally disabled the DMP application portion of the hunting license sales when it was learned that nonresidents were being afforded the same odds of DMP selection as residents.
“Since residents are supposed to have a higher probability than nonresidents and since the system glitch could lead to over-issuing of DMPs, we decided to turn off DMP application until we resolved the issue,” Stang said.
That may have prompted reports that the system had crashed, since some vendors at that point declined to sell hunting licenses.
“It made no sense to sell them a hunting license and tell them to come back for their DMPs,” one license-issuing agent said. “It doubled my work, and it doubled their time in buying a license.”
Other licenses were available for purchase during the DMP shutdown, Stang said.
In addition to that DMP snafu, officials also found the system wasn’t removing preference points from the profiles of hunters who were successfully selected for DMPs, and hunters no selected for a permit weren’t receiving the preference point they were supposed to get after being denied a DMP.
Stang said DEC officials, concerned with fairness to hunters as well as a potential over-issuance of DMPs in some wildlife management units, temporarily disabled the DMP selection option to address those problems.
“It took us two days to identify and resolve the issue, but we turned the DMP application module back on as soon as we felt confident it would work properly,” he said in an email.
Heading into the 2014-15 hunting license sales, DEC officials and staff from Accela, the California-based company contracted to develop the E-licensing system, had feared heavy volume could cripple the system. That prompted a “soft rollout” of the license sales with little fanfare and no formal announcement by the DEC.
“Since New York has a new license structure, new license fee schedule and new computerized system, we wanted to give agents and DEC some experience with these under less stressful conditions, and allowed for sales a week earlier than in the past,” Stang said.
As a result, license sales on Aug. 4 – the first day hunting licenses were offered – were up but “not near what we would have expected if Aug. 4 had been announced” via a statewide news release.
Hunting license sales also peak on Sept. 30 – ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline for DMP permit allocations.
Stang stressed that hunters won’t be affected by their delay in applying for a DMP; the system is designed so the odds of being selected are “the same on the first day and the last day of availability” in any given WMU.
Still, the system’s troubles have led to frustration on all sides, including license-selling agents, some of who have opted out of the offering. Town clerks, in particular, have dropped out of the license-selling scene, prefering to focus on their other daily duties.
But some sporting goods retailers have gone that route, as well.
“It was really just a lack of confidence in the (new) system,” said Tim Blodgett of Saratoga Tackle in Saratoga Springs, who recently stopped selling sporting licenses. “It seemed the system wasn’t designed with the agents in mind. It’s cumbersome, time-consuming and there were constant issues with updates and shutdowns.”
Most license-selling agents were critical of the time involved in processing a license under the new system.
“We were really selling licenses as a public service, and trying to promote hunting and fishing,” Blodgett said. “A one-day license is an absolute time-waster for us; we get 5.5 percent (commission) on $5 or $10. And we have to provide our own computer.”
In Onondaga County, town of Van Buren clerk Lynn M. Precourt said in an email her office was unable to offer licenses on Aug 4 because the DEC had not shipped new license paper (Valeron) to any towns in the county.
Blodgett said that laminated plastic was also a problem in itself. “It’s not working very well; it was jamming up a lot,” he said.
A team of IT experts – from IBM, Oracle and the New York State Office of Information Technology – has evaluated the new system’s performance and made recommendations to improve it, including boosting its speed.
But the anticipated sales volume heading into the fall carries with it some uncertainty over the system’s ability to handle any rush on sporting licenses.
“The level of improvement that can be achieved remains to be seen,” Stang said.
The move to E-licensing is the product of the state’s Shared Services Initiative, a plan introduced by then-Gov. David Paterson. All state agencies will eventually operate under a single E-licensing system.
But the DEC switch is by far the largest to date, since the department offers so many types of sporting licenses.
The switch to the new system was made in January, designed to be conducted at a time when sporting license sales are slow. That was supposed to allow the DEC and Accela to work out the kinks in the new system, but the problems have been more significant than hoped.