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Behind the Limelight: An Interview with the Advisors for Five Key Regulators

Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 1998

which do other background work¼ [there are] about 550 people in the commission, but we have one of the most expansive commissions in the country. I have several areas; one is electric. Anything that's legal, I do. Anything that's related to conservation, I do. Anything that's related to low-income policies¼ economic development.

How does your personality reflect that of your boss? I knew him for many years¼ I followed him in his prior position¼ our personalities are dramatically different.

[On the business side] we're both what I would call old-fashioned progressives who really care about making the world work right for everybody, not just the 'haves.' And we're extremely non-ideological about it. We're very comfortable in trying to develop what works best under the circumstances.

What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? The frustrating part is that we assume that everybody acts in their own self interest. And sometimes it's true and sometimes it's just not.

How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? Traditionally, the utility industry has not been shy at all about approaching the commissioners or the staff directly and making sure their point of views were understood. I don't think that's the way to do business¼ That only gives the commissioners one side of the story. So we tried very hard to¼ be just as accessible to all other interests¼ [and] to not have any access to such organizations or interests on a pending matter. That's something I would say has been kind of lax in the past.

What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? We're opening up competition that's really different than in [California and Massachusetts] and folks are looking at us for how well it goes and how well it doesn't go.

How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? One of the reasons Commissioner Hanger and for that matter, I, want to stay on for a second term (em five years (em is to make sure the things we're putting in place stay in place¼ In some cases, a change in the politics or the personalities of the commission can enable you to just say 'never mind,' turn back¼ I don't think electric industry restructuring is one you can turn back or just say 'never mind' on.

What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change it? The biggest perception (em which is only partly a misconception (em is that regulators are lazy people who are just doing whatever the regulated entities tell them to do. I think there is some truth to that and there's a whole lot of untruth to that.

We personally [try to change that] by example. We certainly put out that standard. When I get a staff report where it's clear they've considered only one side of the story, I send it back to them¼ that very directly gets the point made.

Walter C. Ferguson: Advisor to Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr. (FERC)