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13.11.08

LA PSC needs to focus on reforms that really matter

At its last meeting, the Louisiana Public Service Commission had a motion to slightly tighten its requirements concerning permissible lobbyist expenditures on its members behalf. It wasn’t a bad idea, but was far from what is necessary to address negative concerns raised by the most recent Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report on the agency.

Released last month, the audit was critical on several grounds. It did recommend that instead of following state statute that public servants accept only as much as $50 worth of free food and drink per day to have a total ban on acceptance by commissioners and staff. It also pointed out several areas in which internal procedures were unclear or undocumented, and also noted that even when procedures in areas such as rate review and auditing of those charges they were not being consistently followed.

In response to the former, Commissioner Lambert Bossiere III introduced an order that would have implemented this ban on commissioners. He got fellow Democrat Foster Campbell to go along with him but the three Republican commissioners voted it down. (Incidentally, these two had the least amount of free chow given to them or their families over the 2002-mid-2006 period, although Bossiere did not assume office until 2004; Campbell was a model of economy accepting a whopping $8 worth.)

This was not a bad idea, but not only did it not include all staff members of the LPSC, it didn’t really address the most significant shortcoming of the audit – inconsistent application of rate review procedures both before and after implementation. That is, requests for rate changes and determining whether approved rates were being charged accurately in the opinion of the auditor were being handled too sketchily to ensure comprehensive information was available for setting rates and that once set these rates were actually the ones being utilized in billing.

While the Commission staff disputed many of the discoveries, a common theme concerning its admissions of shortcomings appeared to be lack of resources. These are a matter of legislative appropriation and therefore, if it is not a problem of inefficiency in their use, it is incumbent on the commissioners themselves to lobby the Legislature for more than the roughly $10 million it receives to regulate over $1 billion in utility revenues.

But the commissioners have not made any public crusade for increased funding to hire more staff to more adequately address the rate setting and monitoring tasks. Instead, this year they quietly backed a two-thirds increase of their $45,000 salaries, which Gov. Bobby Jindal wisely vetoed.

Tinkering with the minor detail of commissioner acceptance of culinary gifts is fine, but if the Commission really is serious about improving its performance, the commissioners themselves must take the lead in changing procedures and procuring necessary resources to accomplish meaningful improvement.

1 comment:

James S said...

The PSC has been a disgusting outfit for as long as I can remember. The commissioners have no detailed technical knowledge of the utilities that they regulate yet they disregard the findings of their staff on Entergy. Guess a meal is worth more to some people than to others.