News

Jean Shiomoto: From the Delta to the DMV

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto on the job. (Photos: Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly)

Jean Shiomoto, who grew up on a pear farm in the Delta, has one of the toughest jobs in California – she runs the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In this car-happy state – by one estimate, L.A. County alone has 5.9 million registered automobiles, more than all but five states – anything do with with automobiles is a big deal.

And new challenges loom: The DMV’s sprawling computer system is getting an overhaul. The deadline for the new program to provide licenses for undocumented immigrants is coming up fast, as is the deadline for new regulations governing driverless cars.

It issues identification cards, tracks vehicle and vessel ownership, licenses auto dealers and driver and traffic schools, promotes driver safety, investigates auto and related frauds, and collects money.

Shiomoto, the director of the DMV appointed just 10 months ago by Gov. Brown, seems to have a tiger by the tail but she doesn’t seem fazed.

“We’ll be ready,” she says. “They’ll be done on time.”

Shiomoto oversees an organization with a $1 billion budget and more than 9,000 employees in 234 offices throughout the state.

The DMV registered over 32 million vehicles in 2014. On average, the DMV averages more than 2 million visitors a month on its web site and over 31 million visitors a year. It handles some 41 million transactions annually for driver’s licenses and registrations. It issues identification cards, tracks vehicle and vessel ownership, licenses auto dealers and driver and traffic schools, promotes driver safety, investigates auto and related frauds, and collects money.

Its sprawling computer system, an integral part of the DMV and one that has encountered much criticism, needs modernizing. Shiomoto says the front end of the system has been fixed and is operational and that the rest of the modernization effort, the driver license and vehicle-registration process, is being assessed. But that’s a major task in and of itself.

 The DMV released an iPad version of its Drivers Handbook and “The DMV Answer Man,” a video series launched to help customers with frequently asked questions.

Another challenge is the drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants and the expectation that 1.4 million additional customers will come to the DMV as a result. Numerous issues posed by immigrant-rights groups, as well as security-related issues from the Department of Homeland Security are being addressed. One problem is converting the department’s forms and letters so that they are easier to understand. Language problems must be overcome.

California also is the leader in autonomous vehicles and for some time the DMV has been creating regulations for self-driving automobiles for release by January, 2015.

Like just about everyone else, the DMV also is getting into social media.

The department recently won a ComputerWorld award for social media outreach for its high-volume Twitter account and for posting more than 100 driver training and informational videos on its You Tube channel that have received 26 million views.

And recently, the DMV released an iPad version of its Drivers Handbook and “The DMV Answer Man”, a video series launched to help customers with frequently asked questions.

“We’ve transformed our traditional driver handbook into a dynamic and interactive experience and we’re always looking for innovative ways to provide information to our customers,” she says.

An estimated 100,00 to 120,000 people of Japanese heritage across the country were treated in similar fashion.

Her path to the leadership of the huge DMV was unusual.

Shiomoto’s parents were second generation Japanese-Americans. The Udas, Shiomoto’s mother’s family, and the Fujiis, her father’s, were uprooted from their California homes three months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and interned at the Amache Relocation Center near Grenada, Colorado, for the duration of the war.

Shiomoto’s older sister, one of six children, was born there.

Shiomoto’s father, Charlie Fujii, an Army Sergeant, trained recruits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team composed of Japanese Americans. The 442nd was the most heavily decorated unit in American military history.

An estimated 100,00 to 120,000 people of Japanese heritage across the country were treated in similar fashion. Many were not allowed to take personal belongings with them. Some returned to their homes and found them destroyed, occupied by squatters, or considerably decayed.

“It’s important to have good mentors,” she says. “A boss who is also a strong mentor can make all the difference in a career and a person’s success. I’ve been fortunate in that regard.”

“My family and friends never talked about it”, says Shiomoto. “They were proud people and didn’t complain. It was something they endured and it was over.”

Shiomoto grew up on an 80-acre pear ranch farmed by her parents on Grand Island on the Steamboat Slough near Courtland, a tiny Delta town south of Sacramento. She graduated from nearby Delta High School in Clarksburg and went on to California State University in Sacramento where she received her degree in Business Administration with a major in accounting.

The new DMV director went to work for the state shortly after graduation, working initially with the Department of Developmental Services where her interest in and aptitude for financial analysis moved her through a series of accounting and systems assignments before she was assigned to the Franchise Tax Board. From there, she went to the DMV where she has remained for 26 years.

Those years have involved a steady succession of promotions to positions of increasing responsibility and complexity including those of controller, chief financial officer, deputy director, and chief of operations (chief deputy director) before the Brown propelled her to her current role where, with a stroke of his pen, she became the state’s 27th Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

How did it happen?

“It’s important to have good mentors,” she says. “A boss who is also a strong mentor can make all the difference in a career and a person’s success. I’ve been fortunate in that regard.”

“I’m a collaborative manager. I listen carefully to both sides and weigh their opinions before making decisions. Before taking this job, I was approached by more than one person who’d be working for me who told me ‘I hear you’re fair’. One said ‘I did my homework on you and you’re fair.’ I’m proud of that.”

“And the candy and home-baked goods I keep on my desk help too,” she chuckled.

She’s also a board member of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and serves as board president of the Asian Community Center of Sacramento Valley, an organization dedicated to providing programs and services that help seniors.

For the past 10 years, she has been a member of the Asian-Pacific State Employees Association that promotes members interests by supporting career opportunities and cultural awareness.

APSEA provides a number of career growth vehicles, including scholarships for young people, training conferences, and networking activities.

Daughter Denise is studying for a degree in marketing at Sacramento State.

“No accounting major for her,” says proud Mom. “She’s doing her own thing. And husband David, retired from the Franchise Tax Board, “is my principal support. Family is important.”

Ed’s Note: Adds figure of 41 million transactions, 7th graf.  


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: