- Playmaker: Spencer Moore Role: Georgia Driver Services Commissioner Tenure: January 2017 to present
State Affairs sat down with Spencer R. Moore, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Driver Services, this week for a conversation about his career, accomplishments in office and what he hopes to achieve next.
For Spencer R. Moore, Sunday school isn’t just a place for prayer and Biblical study. It’s where leaders are born.
At a young age, Moore’s Sunday school teachers drove home that as a farmer’s kid from rural Georgia, he could rise to become a leader in the state. “I had two Sunday school teachers as a youth, and I remember the first one was my mom. She said, ‘You're going to be the person that does give us a report for the youth group every Sunday. … [The teachers] would always say, ‘You're going to be a leader in our state.’ And they would say that at an early age. I'm talking 6, 7, 8-years-old,” says Moore.
From managing parolees in Atlanta, to shepherding legislation through the Georgia General Assembly in his early 20’s, to holding key positions in charge of keeping Georgia’s roads safe, Moore has shaped himself into an experienced government leader who has run the state’s Department of Driver Services for half a decade.
It’s one of the most public-facing agencies in Georgia, serving millions of people each year who need to secure or renew their driver’s licenses. Now, with the need for better technology and improving staff retention, Moore faces tough challenges ahead in his fifth year at the helm. “One of the things that we really want to accomplish in the next few short years is finding ways to serve Georgians more efficiently and securely.”
(As always, the answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
Commissioner Spencer Moore and other administrators work at the state Department of Driver Services main office in Rockdale County. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)
What challenges and criticism have you faced during your time in leadership?
“We're the people who are preventing an individual from getting a license [reinstated]. That is sometimes a challenge because a person's credential is extremely valuable to them, he said, explaining that Driver Services often field complaints from people with suspended licenses who believe the wait is too long.
“I'm a very compassionate person, but at the same time, whatever the law says, that's what I'm going to do. And I don't deviate from that in any way.
“Sometimes it may be non-citizens [seeking a license], right? At times, there are productive persons here for either work and/or here in college, but if the federal government doesn't allow for [immigrant status verification] to take place, we can't credential that person. And that’s a very hard stance to take. But it's one that we have to take.”
What are your plans for what you want to accomplish going forward?
“What we can do is introduce self-service. Instead of having to wait for limited staff members that are available, [we’ll] provide a kiosk in some of those busier locations that allows you to walk up to a kiosk and be served. We also plan to introduce those kiosks in grocery stores, similar to what you might see for the tag-and-title option.
“We've also managed to pass legislation that will sometime in the hopefully near future allow us to issue mobile driver's licenses, which is a very exciting thought. … Your physical card has so much valuable information about you. And we hand it over to people at every turn to show how old we are, where we live, what our name is. With the mobile credential, you're only giving up the information that's required.”
Are there changes in the workforce that are impacting Driver Services and how it is able to do its work?
“Our workforce is changing. … We have a lot less people that are 15, 20 years [of employment] and a lot more staff members who are zero to five years. I think the challenge for our younger generation is that they like to explore. They're not as committed to staying with a job for 25 or 30 years. … We have to be ready to on-board them, understanding that they might not be a long-tenured employee, but value them nonetheless, just as we would anyone else.
“When I got here, the entry level salaries were right at $20,000. Over the years, we now have a frontline staff that has a starting salary of 30,000. For recruitment and retention, I can't tell you how much that enhancement means for our valued workers who are extremely important.”
Until early 2021, Driver Services’ in-house operations ran on an outdated system installed in the early 1980s. You have worked to modernize the system.
Would you consider that one of your most major accomplishments?
“It looked like what I remember to be an old Commodore 64 with green screens, and the way that you get through the screen is by tabbing or using a function key. … We were able to transition our entire backend process into a web-based platform. Now it's hosted in the cloud, which brings more security, especially to the valuable data that we have about our citizens and privacy and security.”
What was the professional path that led to your current role?
“I started in state government 25 years ago. I became a parole officer [and] did that for a couple of years. It was an absolutely wonderful job. … But as I started working in parole, I remember I had Zone Four which is [west] of what was then Bankhead highway, down to the airport. It was a pretty tough area to have parolees, and there was this general theme with them: All have substance abuse issues. And [were] either users or dealers and [suffered from] a lack of exposure.”
After his parole officer days, Moore took a job at the state Office of Highway Safety where he worked for 14 years. Early on, he served as a legislative liaison under former Director Yvonne McBride.
“I remember being in some of those conference committee rooms as a 24-year-old. … [Former state Sen. Phil Gingrey] would ask me a question, and here I am before all these legislators, these senior legislators, and literally they were making decisions based on information that I was providing. … I think if you have a chance to be in that legislative process, you really understand probably a little bit better how state government works.”
“I had the fortune of meeting [Gov. Brian Kemp] in the early 2000s and developed a relationship with him. … As the commissioner, the Secretary of State's office [which Kemp led at the time] and our office share data. So there was an immediate connection in continuation of a relationship with Kemp when he became our governor,” says Moore, who was appointed by Kemp from the deputy commissioner position in 2017 to commissioner.
What is a defining moment in your life or career that helped guide you to this role?
“I come from a very modest home in a rural area of Georgia. It wasn't really foreseeable that a young man in my condition could actually achieve some of the things that they told me that I could. I guess I was naive enough to believe them.
“My dad had a farm and he was also a small business owner in the construction business. … I always would ask why we had to be the first to the job and the last to leave, considering you own the company. But he always had this notion of: you lead by example. And leading by example is something that I've tried to do as well.”
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