But what of commissioners' aides and advisers? The people behind the scenes, who, in some cases, propose decisions for regulators to act on. What wisdom can commission aides share with the industry?
Further, are these posts proving grounds? Can we expect to see aides filling commission seats someday? Elizabeth A. Moler, deputy energy secretary, started as a Senate Energy Committee aide. James J. Hoecker, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman, was once a FERC adviser.
Public Utilities Fortnightly spoke with five aides, whose average age is 37. One made a run at a commission job and two met their bosses while in law school. All are outspoken, free to speak on regulatory issues (em even if their position conflicts with that of their boss and his colleagues.
"Most of the work that I do is essentially trying to develop a majority," says Peter Meadows Adels, aide to Pennsylvania Commissioner John Hanger. "So I do a hell of a lot (em negotiation is a little bit too strong (em sometimes it's that, but more of laying out the issue¼ It's fundamentally a political process."
Bob Lane, adviser to California Commissioner Jessie J. Knight Jr., says he and his boss are "philosophical soul mates on the benefits of competition and free markets." But, "from case to case, after discussion, the commissioner's viewpoint may differ from mine. And my job then is to still advance his policy preferences."
Read on to see how these advisers work behind the scenes, readying the regulatory framework.
Peter Meadows Adels: Advisor to Commissioner John Hanger (Pa PUC)
RECEPTIVE TO ALL VIEWS. Boss: Pennsylvania Commissioner John Hanger. Background: Graduated in 1979 from the University of Chicago with a bachelor's degree in geography; received his law degree and masters in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. Met Hanger in law school. Worked at a law firm and a small nonprofit. Later took Hanger's job at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. Joined the commission as Hanger's legal counsel in 1993. Age: 40.
Do you aspire to become a commissioner? My ambitions are less job-title-oriented or forum-oriented than they are to keep doing interesting work that I feel is really helping get the act together in our country a little bit, related to energy. And God knows we need a lot of that still.
What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? I get up at 5:00, leave at 6:00 and I get home at 7:00 or 8:00. I have a four-hour commute daily¼
I do a lot of reading of reports or the briefs for whatever the category of cases, and making recommendations¼ in order to do that, I'm not only doing the basic reading of the documents, I have to do background research, meet with the other commissioners' assistants to try to develop a consensus: What do we want to do differently? Can we all agree on this?
How are staffers hired? Each commissioner has their own staff of five people. I am on Commissioner Hanger's personal staff. In addition, we have the bureaus of the commission 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)
OFFERING INDUSTRY A PROMPT DECISION. Boss: FERC Commissioner Curt Hébert Jr. Background: Received undergraduate degree in accounting from Mississippi State University, then his J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law. Earned a masters in tax law from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. Met Hébert while each was in law school. Represented local telephone companies in private practice before the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Hired in August 1996 as deputy administrator of the Mississippi Public Utilities agency, the state commission's sister group. Moved to FERC in December 1997 with Hébert to become one of his three advisers. Focuses on hydropower cases and some natural gas and electric issues. Age: 36.
Do you aspire to become a commissioner? At this stage of the game, we're all trying to do the job we have at hand. I'll be honest, I haven't thought about that at all. The commissioner positions in Mississippi are elected. I enjoy politics as much as everybody, but when it comes to making my living shaking hands and getting votes, that's not my style.
What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? He and I both live in Maryland, so we both ride to work every day¼ around 7:10, 7:15 we get into the office.
We would leave [at night] probably around 6:30 or 7:00. We put in long days because we figure we have a lot to learn and a lot to read. This place is just packed with paperwork. The typical agenda is a two-week cycle. We have filing Friday¼ the items will begin to come in, you will have some heads up as to what the items are.
The day basically is reviewing those memorandums or reviewing those orders, discussing the issues¼ We meet regularly during the two-week cycle¼ as many as five times.
How are staffers hired? Is it true it pays to know someone? That's not necessarily true. When he was advised that he was going to be appointed, he asked me to come with him to be an adviser for him. When he got up here, he interviewed a number of lawyers on staff already here at FERC. [Hébert also hired Joshua Rokach, a long-term FERC staffer, and Kathleen Dias, a staffer for about five years.]
How does your personality reflect that of your boss? Kathleen and I are a little less aggressive than Josh and Curt. But it works well in the way we work together. As far as being used to his personality, on a personal level, he's not that way. In a business perspective, we want to make a good, informed decision. And sometimes you have to be aggressive to get the information since, the way everything is structured, you have to ask the right people the right questions to get the information you need to make a good decision. That's not always easy.
What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? We're dealing on such a national level, we had to change hats. That has been a process that has been ongoing. When you view something on the state level, you're not concerned about all the other states and what they're doing.
You have a more informed intervenor group here than in the state arena¼ and the intervenors are much more prepared than they were at the state level.
How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? I think even though you can't talk about cases once they're filed, as the industry thinks or a particular group thinks that issue is important, there is generally a story in a publication that's hot about that particular issue. And I think the media, the trade media, does a really good job in bringing a lot of those issues to peoples' attention.
Once it's filed, I don't know of any way other than through speaking engagements to get feedback from the constituency, through the media and the press¼ Obviously, you can't come up here and visit with anybody about it.
What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? Competition cannot reach the level of the industry visionaries without better transmission. However, companies aren't voluntarily out there building transmission so everyone can come into their arena to compete; you need incentives for transmission. Codes of conduct and different rules and regulations don't solve the constraint in system.
[And] we have to have a very balanced mix of resources for energy and one of the things that has been declining over the years is the capacity for hydro facilities. And it doesn't get any greener than that.
How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? It's our duty to be consistent and¼ predictable in the industry because the industry deserves some steady guidance. Because they are taking a lot of risk and they have got to have a regulator who is somewhat stable and consistent and predictable, and I think that is the goal of everyone. Sometimes it doesn't come out that way but we should do our best to strive for that.
What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change that? That maybe sometimes we don't act as promptly as we should, and that has been one of the things that Commissioner Hébert has focused on. Trying to make the decision promptly and let the parties move on. Because that's what they deserve.
Bob Lane: Advisor to Commissioner Jessie J. Knight Jr. (Calif.PUC)
HIS COMMISSIONER'S PHILOSOPHICAL SOUL MATE. Boss: California Commissioner Jessie J. Knight Jr. Background: Graduated with a B.A. in economics from New Mexico State University in 1986. Received a master's in economics in 1988 from the same school's Center for Public Utilities. Had two internships, one with United Telephone (now Sprint) and was hired by the California commission in 1988. Is one of Knight's two advisers. Age: 38.
Do you aspire to become a commissioner? I haven't really thought about that. I've enjoyed working for the commission and that's an awfully big step¼ It's gubernatorial appointed. It's a very senior position. Traditionally, we haven't had people here at the PUC who have moved from staff to be commissioners (em not in the 10 years I've been here.
What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? Commissioner Knight is here all the time¼ he's very involved in the management of the cases, and he and I interact on a daily basis on the management of our cases and the policy direction that's going on. I come in the mornings, 9:00, and I leave between 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening. I'm reviewing cases, making recommendations, working with the ALJ assigned to the case and drafting decisions.
The advisers work across industry lines. I work on telecommunications, electricity and natural gas.
How are staffers hired? There is generally an interview process. Generally the advisers come up from within the staff. One adviser is a career civil service position. And my position is appointed by the governor. Commissioner Knight interviewed me and recommended me to the governor for appointment. And I started working for him in September of 1993. His term expires at the end of the year. I can either return to staff or¼ work for another commissioner (em there's going to be two new commissioners at that time. In some ways there is a little bit of limbo as the commissioner's term expires.
How does your personality reflect that of your boss? He and I are philosophical soul mates on the benefits of competition and free markets and that has made it very easy for me to work with him and very easy for me to understand his positions and be an advocate for his positions both here at the commission and elsewhere.
From case to case, after discussion, the commissioner's viewpoint may differ from mine. And my job then is to still advance his policy preferences¼ I would say on the big issues, we haven't had many differences. [Our differences have] been on fairly minor cases, and more on approach than outcomes.
What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? That all of the people we deal with are people. They're trying to do a job on behalf of their client or company. I try not to let the policy disputes become personal because who you're working with today or are against today may be someone you're trying to work with in the future. So you have to make sure policy differences don't turn into personal problems.
How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? As you interact with the commission, it's always nice to not only tell the commission what you want and what you don't like about what the commission is doing, but make it clear how to fix the problem just in case we agree with you.
What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? Getting the last pieces together as we move forward to electricity competition. And insuring both the industry and the agency can make the transition to the competitive market¼ making sure the regulatory agency doesn't smother the new market and hinder innovation in product offerings¼ that we don't try to steer the market too much.
How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? The commission develops long-term approaches to industries. In 1993, we issued a telecommunications infrastructure strategy. That's been a driving force. In fact, only two commissioners out of the current group were there when we established that policy. By the end of the year there will be no commissioners. This is something we're fairly used to.
What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change that? I think the biggest misperception is that regulators don't understand business. Increasingly, regulators (em and particularly Commissioner Knight (em come from a business background and they [do] understand business. Oftentimes¼ the business community doesn't present the issues as business issues. It's sometimes masked as legal issues or economic arguments.
I've been a career regulator so far, but having worked in the industry, I try to be aware, try to help convert the language from maybe more complex regulatory language to business terms.
M. Bryan Little: Advisor to Commissioner Craig Glazer (Ohio PUC)
GIVING ADVICE TO SMALL BUSINESS. Boss: Ohio Commission Chairman Craig A. Glazer. Background: Graduated Marshall University with a bachelor's degree in English in 1990; received his J.D. in 1995 from Capital University Law School. Became aware of utility issues while working for West Virginia Rep. Nick Joe Rahall II (D). Clerked for Glazer while in law school. Also worked in the utility section of a law firm, representing the industrial energy users of Ohio, Time Warner and AT&T Wireless. Was hired as chairman's aide in February 1997. Age: 30
Do you aspire to become a commissioner? If I were to get that opportunity, I would jump on it. I think it's the best job there is in the utility field¼ you get to look at a broad range of issues¼ issues that affect a wide variety of people. You get to do a balancing act where you end up trying to do something that's equitable.
What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? I advise the chairman on legal and policy issues and I focus primarily on electric and telecom. I usually come in around 8:30 and leave at 6:00, sometimes later¼ I act as the liaison between the chairman and the staff. So generally I will research a specific issue, then discuss the matter with the staff¼ usually when I'm meeting with the staff, I'll argue what the chairman's current position is. Generally, when I meet with the chairman, I'll argue the staff's position and then in the end, I advise the chairman on what I think is right.
How are staffers hired? I work at the chairman's discretion. His term ends in 2002, with the change of new governor. He will probably be a commissioner, not the chairman¼ it's a five-year term, the commissionership. When he's done as chairman, I'll move on.
How does your personality reflect that of your boss? Craig is the hardest working person I've been around. He reads everything. He's the only commissioner I've been around who tries to read every single brief in all the cases.
It connects with my personality because generally I also try to read as much as I can but a lot of times, while he is intensely focused on one, or certain issues, I try to go out and get a broader spectrum from the staff on other issues.
What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? The biggest challenge I faced when I first came here was learning the acronyms. You have to learn a little bit about engineering, a little bit about economics, a little about finance. And that's the best part about this job.
How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? I was asked to speak to a group of small businessmen, air conditioning contractors¼ once I got up there I was pretty surprised to find¼ they were very concerned about affiliate transactions and about the incumbent utility¼ in the process of purchasing a service corporation¼ heating and air conditioning. Under the brand name of the utility, they were going to compete.
They wanted to know how to protect their interests. I advised them first to get a lobbyist, participate before the legislature. But I said it's very, very important to become an intervenor in the rulemaking that will go on before the commission on affiliate transactions.
In the past, small businesses could rely on using the unsworn or the sworn testimony at the public hearings, but now that you have the stakes raised with the restructuring of the industry, I encourage everyone to intervene.
What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? Ohio is looking at companion bills on restructuring of the electric industry. It's sort of a tie. Because in gas we have a gas choice pilot program out now. And we as a commission are looking to expand those programs.
How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? Most of the people¼ have been here since the '70s and '80s. The commission has staggered terms. There are five commissioners and one commissioner is up every year. There's turnover, but there's continuity.
What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change that? That regulators move too slow and that we're currently re-regulating instead of deregulating. And what I have done to help straighten out the misconception is work on educating people on antitrust issues involved, affiliate transaction issues and such.
Frederick W. "Rick" Weston: Advisor to Commissioner Richard Cowart (Vt.PSB)
A SOMEDAY COMMISSIONER? Boss: Vermont Public Service Board Chairman Richard H. Cowart. Background: Graduated Middlebury College, then managed a branch office of a multinational insurance company in Saudi Arabia. Returned to school for graduate studies in international relations at Tufts University. In the late '80s, did energy work for a small consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Then, for the Conservation Law Foundation, worked to promote demand-side management efforts. Joined Vermont board Nov. 6, 1989. Age: 41.
Do you aspire to become a commissioner? Do I? No. I'm making no deliberate or conscious efforts to become a commissioner. That having been said, I have applied for a commissionership and was not nominated, in Vermont.
The next term that's up for consideration is the chairman's position. That obviously is a much more weighty decision on the part of the governor and not being a lawyer would work against me.
What's a typical day? What's your interaction with the commissioner? From 7:30 to 6:00¼ one of two things happen. I have two broad functions here at the Public Service Board. I'm a staffer who assists the board and advises the board in its deliberations on the issues before it¼ but I'm also a hearing officer, so I hear cases directly. I am an administrative law judge.
I hear cases and then issue proposed decisions. Everything I do as a hearing officer is what the board would do or does do when it hears cases directly (em except for one thing. I can't issue a final decision.
How are staffers hired? They're hired by Richard Cowart, the chairman.
How does your personality reflect that of your boss? When I interviewed for the job, I didn't even know who [Cowart] was. I knew nothing about Vermont. I only knew Vermont was heading in the right direction on DSM. A hearing officer here had issued a comprehensive and lengthy report on integrated resource planning and demand-side management that we at CLF thought was a good thing.
The question you're really asking is¼ how do staff internalize the imperative, the inclination, the general tone and tint of the commission in their own actions?
My politics are far to the left of the commissioner's, as a general matter. How does that affect my work? One thing that I think I have¼ is a fundamental respect for the law. So that I feel it is important, appropriate to a fair and functioning society to act appropriately within the law.
Professionally, Richard and I tend to disagree on very little. And you're right to say, hell, Rich pays his salary¼ but let me tell you, Richard and his board have never told me to shut up¼ they've always listened to me.
What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? I have learned that all economic actors act to protect their economic welfare.
What else have I learned? That these people are people and in general the people who come before me are forthright, honest, hardworking, dedicated people (em at the utilities, at the consumer advocate, intervenor groups.
How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? In terms of process, to make sure the case gets the attention it deserves, they have to keep making noise about it. But that suggests, in the absence of nagging on the part of various parties, nothing would happen. I can say as a general matter here at the Public Service Board we do a darn good job of moving reasonably quickly on parties' petitions.
What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? The obvious one: the future of the electric industry. The second obvious one is the future of the telecommunications industry. Those two industries together, total revenues just jurisdictionally in this state, are roughly equal to the total budget of the state government¼ So the immediate concern is how to contain those costs.
How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? Well on the board itself, only one face on the board has changed in the last six years. So on the board, [it's not an issue]. On the staff, we've had very, very little turnover.
What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change that? I'll tell you this one misperception we always get: a belief that the board makes its rate case decisions by closing its eyes and cutting the positions of the parties down the middle. And I have to tell you: That is not true. That is not how we do it here. We go item by item through the cost of service.
Joseph F. Schuler Jr. is senior associate editor of Public Utilities Fortnightly.
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