Major Strategic Directions and Associated Strategic Objectives

 

 

The PSC has adopted four major strategic directions:

 

1.   To Ensure That Reliable Telecommunications, Natural Gas, Electric And Transportation Services Are Available And Reasonably Priced Either Through Effectively Competitive Markets Or Through Economic Regulation.

This strategic direction relates to the economic regulation of the electric, telecommunications, natural gas and transportation industries. Historically, electric, telecommunications, and natural gas customers have been served by a single monopoly provider that charged rates set by the PSC through economic regulation. Now some of the services provided by these industries are being opened to competition. The Commission will continue to regulate the residual monopoly services of these industries and ensure universal service as it is defined for each industry. This strategic direction asserts that although the role of the PSC is changing with the introduction of competition, its overall responsibility to customers is the same. Prices paid by customers should be fair and reasonable whether the service is purchased from a monopoly utility or from a competitive provider and that service should be adequate and reliable.

2.   To Enhance Public Safety Through The Pipeline And Transportation Safety Programs

This strategic direction relates to public safety. The Commission is responsible for both natural gas pipeline and commercial vehicle safety. The PSC works closely with the federal government to enforce the national safety standards and regulations in both of these areas.

3.   Enhance The Efficiency And Effectiveness Of Agency Operations

The third strategic direction focuses on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of internal operations. The key areas that comprise the internal operations of the agency are work processes and information, human resources, and financial resources. Strategies have been identified for improving each of these areas. The effective use of information technology will be instrumental in improving many internal operations.

4.   To Demonstrate A Commitment To All Customers And Stakeholders

This strategic direction focuses primarily on consumer protection and education, but also addresses other external stakeholders. Because of the complexity of the PSC’s responsibilities, there is a continual need to interact with numerous private and public organizations. The Commissioners and staff have established a network of contacts and working relationships with their customers and stakeholders. However, as the role of the agency evolves it must expand and intensify these ties. By using information technology, such as the Internet, the PSC will be more accessible to the public. The PSC demonstrates its commitment to customer service through increased outreach and educational initiatives and timely responses to requests for action or information.

In the remainder of this plan strategic objectives are set forth for each of these four strategic directions. Accomplishments to date, work-in-progress and future projects relating to achieving PSC goals are noted herein.

To Ensure That Reliable Telecommunications, Natural Gas, Electric And Transportation Services Are Available And Reasonably Priced Either Through Effectively Competitive Markets Or Through Economic Regulation.

Historically, the PSC has been responsible for setting the rates charged by Telecommunications, Natural Gas, Electric and Transportation companies through economic regulation, and for establishing and enforcing quality of service and customer service standards. The telecommunications, natural gas, and electric industries were previously characterized as natural monopolies. Now each of these industries is evolving from a monopoly market structure where customers are served by a single provider to a competitive market where customers can choose from multiple providers for certain services. Some services will continue to be monopoly services regulated by the PSC. The pace of competition varies among these industries. In the telecommunications industry long distance service has been competitive since the mid-1980s. In 1995 and 1996 local telephone service was opened to competition by state and federal legislation. In 1997 Georgia deregulated the natural gas industry. Discussions about restructuring the electric industry are underway at both the state and federal level, although no statutory changes have been made to date.

As these industries become competitive, the role of the PSC will change. Where feasible, the prices charged for utility service will be market-based instead of being directly set by the Commission. Some services will continue to be provided by a monopoly, such as distribution services, and will be offered at rates approved by the Commission. A primary function of the PSC during the implementation and transition period will be to set the ground rules to enable competitive markets to develop. Another primary objective is to ensure universal service for all Georgians. Once full competition is achieved the Commission’s role will be to arbitrate disputes among the providers in the market, to ensure that the competitive market is operating effectively, to ensure universal service and to regulate residual monopoly services. The agency’s role in ensuring quality of service will, in all likelihood, expand. As the number of providers in each of these industries increase, so will the opportunity for harmful practices. The public’s need for accurate, objective information regarding these practices will escalate.

For many years the PSC set the rates charged by motor carriers. However, economic regulation of transportation companies has diminished over the past two decades. At this time the PSC has price-setting authority over household goods, bus (other than charter) and limousine carriers and is responsible for permitting and certifying intrastate and interstate motor carriers.

For each of these industries the PSC has identified the same strategic direction: To ensure that utility services are reliable and reasonably priced either through effectively competitive markets or through economic regulation. The following sections detail the strategic objectives that relate to this strategic direction by industry: (1) Telecommunications; (2) Natural Gas; (3) Electric; and, (4) Transportation.

 

 

Telecommunications Industry

To successfully establish a competitive market in telecommunications the Commission must implement both the state and federal Telecommunications Acts in a manner that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the detriments of competition. The benefits of competition can be lower prices and better service to the maximum number of customers. Potential detriments include unfair pricing, increased customer fraud and deceptive business practices. In reaching this goal the Commission has identified the following strategic objectives and strategies that comply with the laws and reflect sound regulatory policy. Appendix A of this Plan contains definitions of telecommunications terms and acronyms. Appendix B provides a more detailed description of the telecommunications industry in Georgia and the applicable laws.

Telecommunications Strategic Objectives

The PSC has identified two broad strategic objectives: (1) To implement a competitive market; and, (2) To provide for universal service. To accomplish the first objective several strategies have been identified: (a) Certify alternative suppliers of telecommunication services; (b) Ensure access to existing networks by alternate suppliers; (c) Implement alternative regulation; (d) Resolve interconnection and fair competition disputes; (e) Institute number portability; and (f) Monitor the development of a competitive market. To accomplish the second objective of providing universal service, the strategy is to ensure reasonable rates for rural and high cost areas as well as low-income subscribers.

 

Strategic Objective 1. To Implement A Competitive Market:

Strategy a) Certify Alternative Suppliers of Telecommunication Services

The Commission has been successful in certifying numerous alternative providers of local exchange service, interexchange service, alternative operator service and customer owned coin operated telephones. The Commission has received 127 applications from potential Competitive Local Exchange Companies (CLECs). Of these, 81 have been approved, 3 have been denied, 10 have been withdrawn and 33 are in the review process. Not all of those with approved certificates are currently offering service to residential customers. However, the PSC expects the level of local residential telephone competition to accelerate with the continued development and perfection of electronic interfaces, full implementation of permanent telephone number portability and a final Supreme Court decision on the appropriate pricing of recombined network elements. Effective July 1, 1998, the State Telecommunications Act authorized the Commission to certificate CLECs within the serving area of Tier 2 Local Exchange Companies. CLECs presence in the Tier 2 territories should also foster competition in the residential market.

Strategy b) Ensure Non-Discriminatory Access To Existing Networks By Alternative Suppliers

Access to existing networks by alternative suppliers remains one of the major impediments to effective competition in the local exchange market. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires incumbent local exchange companies to provide access to its network in the same manner and quality as it provides to itself or to its subsidiaries. The Commission has completed resolution of major pricing issues surrounding access to the incumbent’s network. The balance of these concerns is operational—such as electronic interfaces. The Commission has ordered BellSouth to make certain enhancements to its Operational Support Systems and adopted performance standards to monitor the Company’s progress through monthly surveillance reports to ensure that the non-discriminatory access standard is adhered to. BellSouth must comply with these Commission requirements before it can qualify to enter the in-region interLATA long distance market.

Strategy c) Implement Alternative Regulation

Prices charged for the majority of local telephone services will continue to be regulated by the Commission until competition is fully in place. However, 19 of the 34 incumbent local exchange companies have elected to use an alternative form of regulation instead of traditional rate base regulation. Alternative regulation is largely defined by statute and limits the prices charged for basic telecommunication services provided by these companies. The Commission by order and rulemaking has begun implementation and issued interpretations of the law. One such order issued by the Commission was appealed to the Superior Court, which reversed the PSC’s decision. Upon further appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Superior Court’s order was overturned and the decision of the Commission was reinstated. A subsequent appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court was filed and is presently awaiting decision. As it now stands, the appellate process is not expected to be complete until 2000 or later. The Commission will be initiating rulemaking with respect to alternative regulation in 1998.

Strategy d) Resolve Interconnection and Fair Competition Disputes

Two new duties assigned to the Commission from both laws are resolving disputes between competing carriers and enforcing a fair competitive market. As a result of these additional duties the Commission has experienced considerable growth in the number and complexity of cases it must handle.

Strategy e) Institute Permanent Number Portability

Number portability allows customers to change their telephone supplier without changing their telephone number. Although the FCC has ultimate jurisdiction over number portability, the Georgia Public Service Commission continues to be a national leader in adopting a permanent solution to number portability for the state. The FCC recognized these efforts and has adopted the Georgia solution as one of the methods for ensuring the implementation of permanent telephone number portability nationwide. The PSC will continue to work with the FCC and the industry work group to perfect the regulatory framework for number portability. On August 31, 1998, 20 central offices in the Metro Atlanta calling area will institute the long-term solution for number portability. As competition develops, number portability will be implemented in other local telephone markets around the state.

Strategy f) Monitor the Development of a Competitive Local Market

To evaluate the extent of local competition the Commission requires that CLECs file monthly surveillance reports with indicate the number of customers and the number of access lines receiving service. At the end of June1998 the data indicated that 47,501 customers and 104,161 access lines were being served by CLECs throughout the state.

 

Strategic Objective 2. To Provide For Universal Service By Ensuring Reasonable Rates for Rural and High Cost Areas As Well As Low-income Subscribers

The Commission has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring universal access to the telecommunications network. Both State and Federal Telecommunications Competition Acts address reasonable rates for rural and high cost areas. The Georgia Act provides for a Universal Access Fund to be administered by the Georgia Public Service Commission. SB137 provided that the UAF be implemented in two phases, each with a different purpose. During the first phase per O.C.G.A. 46-5-166(2)(f) the fund is to be used to achieve intrastate parity with interstate access charges. This fund is fully operational with contributions and disbursements being made on a quarterly basis. In July 1998 the Commission approved an agreement among all industry participants that sets forth UAF guidelines to implement access parity. During the second phase per O.C.G.A. 46-5-167 the fund will provide a cost-based reimbursement to local service providers operating in high-cost areas of the state. The Commission has recently adopted a Procedural and Scheduling Order to implement phase two.

The Commission has responsibility for implementing certain intrastate aspects of the federal Universal Service Fund and its resulting programs. The federal USF provides funding for the same purposes as the state fund, as well as for discounts to schools, libraries, primary rural health care facilities and for assistance to low income users. The Commission plans to use the state Universal Access Fund in conjunction with the federal Universal Service Fund to ensure that Georgians pay reasonable rates for their basic services. The Commission will coordinate federal and state efforts to avoid duplication.

 

Natural Gas Industry

Ideally, a competitive natural gas market provides lower prices and better service to the maximum number of end users. The success of opening the natural gas market to competition will be judged on whether consumers benefit, economic efficiency is improved, fair competition is promoted, and safety and reliability are maintained or enhanced. The Commission’s goal is to implement the state’s natural gas deregulation law in a manner that achieves these benefits. To reach this goal and to fulfill its traditional responsibilities in the natural gas industry the Commission has adopted three strategic objectives and related strategies. Appendix C provides a more detailed description of the natural gas industry in Georgia and the applicable laws.

Natural Gas Strategic Objectives

The Commission’s three strategic objectives in the natural gas industry are: (1) To implement the competitive market; (2) To ensure reasonable prices for monopoly gas services; and (3) To ensure the availability and reliability of gas supply. The strategies identified to accomplish the first strategic objective are: (a) Evaluate alternative regulation; (b) Certify and oversee marketers; (c) Assign customers to competitive gas marketers; (d) Manage the competitive market; and (e) Administer the Universal Service Fund. Strategies have been identified to achieve the other two strategic objectives, as well.

Strategic Objective 1. To Implement the Competitive Market

Strategy a) Evaluate Alternative Regulation

Atlanta Gas Light Company (AGL) filed an application with the Commission in November 1997 to have its rates, charges and services regulated under an alternative form of regulation. Under state statute the distribution of natural gas will remain a monopoly service regulated by the Commission. Under certain circumstances an alternative form of regulation, often referred to as performance-based regulation, could replace traditional rate of return regulation for pricing this monopoly service. In June 1998 the Commission decided that AGL did not meet the requirements for alternative regulation and thus denied the company’s request. United Cities Gas Company (UCG), the other investor-owned gas distribution company in Georgia, has not filed for alternative regulation.

Strategy b) Certify and Oversee Marketers

Under state law the Commission has the authority to issue Certificates of Authority to competing marketers. Final rules for granting Certificates of Authority to competing sellers of natural gas were approved at the end of 1997. Applications have been received from 28 potential gas marketers. The Commission will begin hearings on the financial and technical competence of these applicants in September 1998 and make a final determination by November 1998. Having certified marketers in operation and customer assignment rules in place will signal the beginning of the transition to a competitive market in which customers will have a choice of natural gas suppliers.

Strategy c) Assign Customers to Competitive Gas Marketers

When certain market share conditions are met the local gas distribution company will no longer be required to sell gas to retail customers. The local gas company will be a "pipes" company and, as such, will continue to sell delivery service at rates set by the Commission. At the point in time when 33% of peak day volume is provided by competitive marketers, all firm retail customers who have not yet chosen a marketer will be assigned equitably to the new marketers. The Commission has adopted the methodology mandated for random customer assignment to be used once the competitive market is operating. In the meantime, the Commission will be monitoring the development of the competitive market and will eventually make the determination of when adequate market conditions have been met to begin the random customer assignments.

Strategy d) Manage the Competitive Market

Once the gas market is opened to competition the Commission has ongoing responsibilities to oversee the duties of the electing distribution company (EDC), to resolve disputes between the marketers and the EDC, and to monitor the effectiveness of the competitive market. The EDC will continue to be regulated by the Commission. As with the telecommunications industry the Commission will resolve complaints marketers or consumers may have with the EDC or other marketers to ensure that competition is fair. If effective competition fails to materialize or if conditions arise where competition is not in the best public interest, state law provides for corrective action.

Strategy e) Administer The Universal Service Fund

The Universal Service Fund established under state statute has two purposes: (1) To cover a portion of the uncollectible losses of marketers; and (2) To continue expansion of the distribution system into areas that are currently not served by natural gas. Rules governing fund contributions and disbursements should be adopted by September 1998.

Strategic Objective 2. To Ensure Reasonable Prices For Monopoly Gas Services

Traditional rate making principles ensure just and reasonable rates, as well as reliability and safety. As part of its regulatory duties the Commission set rates for monopoly gas services and approves special charges, such as those for the recovery of costs incurred for the remediation of coal tar sites and for the replacement of aging infrastructure. As seen in these two strategies, the Commission has rate-setting responsibilities for both electing and non-electing distribution companies.

Strategy a) Set Rates For Firm Delivery Service

The delivery of gas by the EDC will continue to be a regulated monopoly service with rates approved by the Commission. The Commission set the delivery price to be charged as part of its AGL rate case order, issued in June 1998. State law required the Commission to use straight fixed variable rate design and placed other restrictions on the determination of the delivery charges.

Strategy b) Set Rates For Non-Electing Local Gas Distribution Companies

The Commission has the continued responsibility to regulate all rates charged by United Cities Gas Company, which has not yet elected to open its market to competition.

Strategic Objective 3. To Ensure the Availability and Reliability of Gas Supply

Strategy a) Approve Gas Supply Plans

On or before August 1 of each year, each gas utility shall file with the Commission its gas supply plan for the following recovery year ending September 30. The staff is responsible for reviewing and analyzing the filing, issuing data requests and evaluating the responses, preparing and filing of testimony, defending that testimony while under cross-examination in a formal hearing, and writing a final Commission Order. All of these activities must be completed within 45 days, as mandated by law.

Strategy b) Approve a Prudent Capacity Supply

An electing distribution company that is no longer subject to the gas supply plan statute and has commodity sales service rates must file a capacity supply plan, on or before August 1 each year. As with the gas supply plans the staff is responsible for reviewing and analyzing the filing, issuing data requests and evaluating the responses, preparing and filing of testimony, defending that testimony while under cross-examination in a formal hearing, and writing a final Commission Order. All of these activities must be completed within 45 days, as mandated by law.

Strategy c) Evaluate Requests for Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity

In order to construct and operate an intrastate natural gas pipeline, a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity must be obtained from the Commission.

 

Electric Industry

The State of Georgia has benefited from limited retail competition in the electric industry since 1973 with the passage of the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act. Additional legislation has not been passed at either the state or federal level that would open the industry to full retail competition, although discussions have been underway in Congress for several years. The PSC conducted a series of informal workshops to explore the issues pertaining to the potential restructuring of the electric industry and issued a staff report in January 1998. Expanded competition is not expected in the near future, but the PSC will continue to evaluate the issues related to electric industry restructuring. At this time the PSC is operating under current law which requires traditional regulation of the electric industry. Appendix D provides a more detailed description of the electric industry in Georgia and the applicable laws.

Electric Strategic Objectives

The Commission has adopted several strategic objectives for regulating the electric industry: (1) Ensure just and reasonable rates; (2) Ensure that energy requirements are met; (3) Administer the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act; and (4) Examine issues relating to restructuring Georgia’s electric industry.

Strategic Objective 1. To Ensure Just and Reasonable Rates

The Commission is responsible for setting the rates for electric service provided by Georgia Power Company (Georgia Power) and Savannah Electric and Power Company (Savannah Electric). Per Commission order Georgia Power filed a rate case in June 1998. As part of this case the Commission will consider whether to continue or modify the alternative regulation plan currently in place for Georgia Power. A final decision is expected in December 1998.

The Commission adopted a stipulated agreement and accounting order in 1998 that reduced electric rates for Savannah Electric’s small business customers and adjusted depreciation, amortization and storm damage expense. The Commission will monitor the results of this agreement by analyzing quarterly surveillance reports from Savannah Electric to ensure that a reasonable level of earnings is not exceeded.

To help ensure that rates are reasonable the Commission conducts prudence reviews of management decisions, approves special rate reduction contracts under Georgia’s Economic Development Incentive Policy, produces biannual rate surveys of all investor-owned, electric membership corporations and municipal electric utilities, and approves applications for financing authority.

Strategic Objective 2. To Ensure That Energy Requirements Are Met

The Commission is responsible for ensuring that sufficient energy resources are available to meet the needs of the state. To accomplish this, the Commission evaluates and approves the integrated resource plans of the utilities every three years. In 1998 the Commission held hearings and issued decisions approving the integrated resource plan for both regulated electric utilities. In approving the plan the Commission considered both supply sources and demand forecasts.

The Commission approves applications for capacity purchases made by the utilities. Savannah Electric and Power filed their Application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) for Capacity Purchases for the Years 1999, 2000 and 2001 in February 1998. The final decision in this case is expected in October 1998.

Strategic Objective 3. To Administer The Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act

Retail competition has been present in Georgia since the passage of the Georgia Territorial Electric Service Act in 1973. This Act provides customers with loads of 900kW or greater a choice in their electric supplier. It also affords eligible customers the opportunity to change from one electric supplier to another provided all parties consent to the transfer. The Commission’s role is to resolve territorial disputes and customer complaints involving customer choice, review and approve requests for transfer of retail electric service and, to maintain the maps of territorial assignments for electric suppliers in each county in the State of Georgia.

Strategic Objective 4. To Examine Issues Relating To Restructuring Georgia’s Electric Industry

The Commission issued a staff report on restructuring the electric industry in January of 1998. The report identified several areas for further study which the Commission will address in the coming years. Additional issues will arise in the Georgia Power rate case and other proceedings before the agency and will be addressed as needed. The following strategies relate to four key areas that affect restructuring:

Strategy a) Maintain Reliability Through Appropriate Industry Structure

The reliability of an electric system can be viewed as two interrelated elements: adequacy and security. Adequacy refers to balancing the level of resources to meet peak demand while security refers to the ability of the system to withstand sudden changes on an hourly or daily basis, such as the loss of a generating unit or transmission line. Without adequate generation, security concerns are greater. This dual nature of reliability is the responsibility of each independent system; however, all interconnected systems are coordinated through the regional reliability councils of the North American Electric Reliability Organization (NAERO).

If retail open access is implemented in Georgia, current responsibilities for reliability conformance may need to be modified. Moreover, there are distinct and separate reliability concerns pertaining to generation, transmission and distribution planning and operations that must be factored into any restructuring plan.

The Commission plans to address these concerns in an investigatory proceeding. Maintenance of short and long term reliability in the development of a competitive market structure will be the primary focus.

Strategy b) Address Stranded Cost Recovery

A major hurdle in restructuring the electric industry will be the fair resolution of stranded cost recovery. The Commission has already encouraged both investor-owned electric companies to amortize potentially strandable costs. As part of Georgia Power’s modified earnings sharing plan, earnings in excess of an allowed level are used to amortize generating assets. Savannah Electric and Power has been authorized to accumulate a reserve that can be used by the Commission to offset stranded costs if the Commission ultimately finds that costs will be stranded. These mechanisms will produce long term benefits to both stockholders and ratepayers. The Commission will address this issue further in future proceedings.

Strategy c) Evaluate the Unbundling of Electric Service Components

The Commission has authority over rate design. This authority can be used to unbundle rates or to phase-in unbundling. The Commission will examine rate design in the Georgia Power rate case to more closely match the price of services to the cost of providing these services. Under competition prices tend to move toward cost. Eliminating subsidies from regulated rates will make the transition to market-based rates easier.

Strategy d) Address Market Power Issues

In the process of restructuring the electric industry in Georgia, the General Assembly and the Commission must ensure that a structure is not created where a supplier possesses sufficient market power to essentially become an unregulated monopoly. In order to accomplish this, establishing an Independent System Operator (ISO) and requiring divestiture of generation assets are two of several methods that should be studied. The Commission plans to investigate these issues in a generic proceeding.

 

Transportation Industry

The Commission has price-setting authority over household goods, bus (other than charter) and limousine carriers and is responsible for permitting and certifying "for hire" intrastate and interstate motor carriers. The following strategic objectives and strategies have been adopted relating to this authority.

Transportation Strategic Objectives

The PSC has identified three broad strategic objectives: (1) To ensure reasonable rates and tariffs; (2) To ensure that carriers are properly registered and certificated; and (3) To verify that carriers have the appropriate level of insurance coverage. To accomplish these objectives several strategies have been identified for each.

Strategic Objective 1. To Ensure Reasonable Rates And Tariffs.

The economic regulation of rates for motor carriers is limited to household goods carriers and some for hire passenger carriers, such as limousines. The Commission reviews and approves the tariffs for these carriers. To streamline the process the Commission has adopted a maximum tariff for limousines. Carriers who use this tariff can obtain approval more quickly.

Strategic Objective 2. To Ensure That Carriers Are Properly Registered And Certificated.

The Certification and Permitting unit registers approximately 625,000 vehicles and collects approximately $7,000,000 in registration fees annually under the division’s registration program. Approximately $3,000,000 is retained and deposited in the general fund of the State of Georgia; the balance is transferred to other states. Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) must be obtained by "for hire" household goods, bus (other than charter) and limousine carriers. Other carriers are not required to have a certificate but must register or obtain a permit to operate in Georgia. These include:

  • Interstate exempt "for hire" carriers who transport exempt commodities, such as non-processed fruits and vegetables, sod and other items;

  • Intrastate exempt "for hire" carriers of ten passengers or less, such as non-emergency medical vehicles or sedans who transport people but do not fall under either the bus or limousine classification;

  • Interstate carriers who transport goods regulated under USDOT authority;

  • Charter buses; and,

  • "For hire" carriers who transport goods within Georgia.

In addition to certificating, permitting and registering companies, the Commission also issues and tracks chauffeur permits granted to individuals who drive limousines in Georgia. Strategies related to these responsibilities include:

Strategy a) Reduce The Number Of Illegal Household Goods And Limousine Carriers

Numerous household goods carriers operate without a certificate of authority in Georgia. When consumer complaints about poor service bring these to the attention of the Commission, follow-up action is often difficult. Providing information on how to become properly certificated and seeking authority to restrict an illegal carrier’s ability to advertise in the yellow pages are two possible avenues to implement this strategy.

Strategy b) Continue To Work Closely With The Department Of Aviation Ground Transportation In Monitoring Illegal Limousine Carriers Operating At The Airport.

Limousine carriers must have evidence of liability insurance on file with the Commission. A tracking system will be developed to identify carriers who are placed under suspension for failure to have proof of insurance. Provide the Department of Aviation Ground Transportation with a list of suspended carriers on a periodic basis.

Strategy c) Track The Chauffeur Permit Renewal Process

The Commission is charged with the responsibility of performing background investigations on all limousine drivers and subsequently issuing chauffeur permits that are renewable every two years. A program to track expired permits will be developed.

Strategy d) Cross-reference Chauffeur Permitted Drivers To Carriers.

Under O.C.G.A. 46-7-85.9, chauffeur permits are valid for two calendar years. Chauffeur permits are issued in the driver’s name and have a photograph of the driver affixed thereto. The employing limousine carrier is also reflected. Establish a system to notify the limousine carrier when the chauffeur permit is close to expiration and implement revocation procedure for any driver who fails to renew. Develop requirement for limousine carrier(s) to notify Commission when chauffeur leaves their employment so that revocation can be accomplished.

Strategic Objective 3. To Verify That Carriers Have The Appropriate Level Of Insurance Coverage.

Strategy a) Evaluate Changes In Insurance Coverage Requirements

The Commission verifies that all "for hire" carriers have proof of insurance. The staff reviews over 100,000 insurance filings each year. The required level of insurance coverage differs at the state and federal level. To minimize confusion and to streamline the verification process the Commission will evaluate the feasibility of making intrastate insurance requirements for all licensed motor carriers the same as the federal requirements.

Strategy b) Establish Tracking System For Monitoring Carrier Insurance Status

Implement a system for monitoring carrier insurance status by researching carrier information to establish a base number of carriers that had proof of insurance on file January 1, 1998 and number of carriers placed under suspension in 1998. Use this number as a basis for comparison to next year’s figures to track the percentage of carriers without insurance.

 

 

To Enhance Public Safety Through the Pipeline and Transportation Safety Programs

The Governor’s State Strategic Plan emphasizes the need to ensure the safety of Georgia’s citizens. Two programs at the PSC pertain directly to safety—natural gas pipeline safety and the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP). The Georgia Public Service Commission is reimbursed by the federal government for 50% of the cost of the pipeline safety program and for 80% of the cost of enforcing commercial motor vehicle safety regulations.

Both of these programs are focused, not only on detecting and correcting safety violations, but also on preventing pipeline incidents and commercial vehicle crashes. Public safety is enhanced through an active inspection program, the enforcement of safety standards and through education of the industries and the public. The strategic objectives discussed hereinafter reflect the Commission’s emphasis on ensuring public safety through prevention.

 

Pipeline Safety

The Pipeline Safety Office is responsible for enforcing safety regulations for natural gas pipelines and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities. Appendix E contains detailed information about the Pipeline Safety Program. Achieving operator compliance with the pipeline safety regulations is critical to preventing accidents and injuries to the general public. To administer effectively and efficiently a pipeline safety program, the Commission must develop an approach that features not only field inspections of existing facilities and records, but also training of operators, vendors, consultants and other industry personnel. In reaching this goal the Commission must meet the following objectives. 

Pipeline Safety Strategic Objectives

A number of strategic objectives are necessary to ensure safe pipeline systems in Georgia: (1) To heighten enforcement; (2) To perform risk management assessment of natural gas systems; (3) To expand public education and system operators safety training; and (4) To seek clarification of authority over Liquefied Propane Gas (LPG) distribution systems and hazardous liquid pipelines.

Strategic Objective 1. To Heighten Enforcement

Strategy a) Perform A Matrix Of Safety, Operation, Construction, Maintenance, and Drug And Alcohol Inspections On All Natural Gas Distribution Systems.

Active enforcement through physical verification of pipeline facilities is the keystone of the pipeline safety program. Currently the PSC is performing extensive compliance audits, including physical verification of plant operations for all jurisdictional systems. Where inspectors have identified problems, efforts are being made to bring systems into full compliance to ensure the safety of the citizens. This unit continues to demonstrate leadership in pipeline safety matters by following federal guidelines, recommendations and standards and by keeping abreast of technological advancements in the industry through related educational programs and seminars.

Strategy b) Perform Special Investigations

The Pipeline Safety Office has been involved with numerous special investigations. As a result of these investigations, three municipal systems and one investor-owned company are making extensive improvements to their infrastructure under order of the Commission. All four have agreed to replace aging pipe in their systems in order to reduce the number and severity of leaks. Dalton Utilities, one of the first systems, has reported significant savings in its operating costs as a result of their replacement program. The Office also participates in criminal investigations in which pipeline safety is believed to have been compromised.

Strategy c) Perform Investigations Of Natural Gas Incidents

Whenever a natural gas incident involves personal injury, death or damage of $5,000 or more the Pipeline Safety Office investigates to determine the cause of the incident. Frequently these incidents are caused by third-party damage. The Commission works closely with the Utilities Protection Center to ensure that underground lines are clearly and accurately marked.

Strategic Objective 2. To Perform Risk Management Assessment of Natural Gas Systems

The Pipeline Safety Office uses risk management assessment to select systems to be inspected. Appendix E of this plan illustrates factors used to determine potential risk. Operators that meet risk criteria are given a high priority and monitored more frequently. This analytical tool is an effective way to measure the safety of systems and thereby allocate resources efficiently.

Strategic Objective 3. To Seek Clarification of Authority Over Intrastate Liquefied Propane Gas (LPG) Distribution Systems and Hazardous Liquid Pipelines

The Federal Office of Pipeline Safety has funds available for inspection of intrastate liquefied propane gas systems and liquid petroleum pipelines. However, there is a conflict between the federal and state law regarding authority over the inspection of intrastate LPG systems. State law grants tank inspection authority to the State Fire Marshal’s Office while federal law authorizes full system inspection to the Public Service Commission along with federal funding. The Commission will pursue a state statutory change granting this authority to enable the PSC to fulfill its federal mandate and to be eligible for federal funds.

 

Transportation Safety

The Enforcement and Compliance Units of the Transportation Division of the Georgia Public Service Commission ensure compliance with safety and hazardous materials regulations. The Division has 42 uniformed enforcement officers and 7 other staff members. Most of the officers reside and work in their assigned territories that range in size from 4 to 10 counties. Part of the PSC’s commitment to commercial vehicle safety has been to work with other state and federal agencies and with enforcement divisions in respective counties to promote commercial vehicle safety.  

Transportation Safety Strategic Objectives

The Transportation Division has identified the following four strategic objectives and the associated strategies:

Strategic Objective 1. To Focus On High Risk Commercial Operators

To reduce accidents, injuries, and deaths resulting from crashes involving commercial motor vehicles, the Transportation Division established a Safety Operations Review process in 1998 to focus on high-risk commercial operators. Several strategies involved in conducting safety operations reviews are:

Strategy a) Identify Those Motor Carriers Who Demonstrate A Continuous And Flagrant Disregard For The Commercial Vehicle Laws And Regulation.

Strategy b) Dispatch Safety Operations Review Team To Motor Carrier Offices To Discern Why And Where Violations Are Occurring And Causes Through Terminal Inspections And Compliance Reviews.

Strategy c) Conduct Safety Meetings and Seminars And Provide Educational Materials To Assist Carriers In Establishing A Viable Safety Program.

Strategy d) Make Recommendations To The Carrier With Time Schedules For Correcting Violations.

Strategy e) Perform Follow-Up Reviews And Make Recommendations For Sanctions, If Necessary.

Strategy f) Develop And Implement Civil Penalty Procedures To Be Used When Carriers Fail To Comply.

Strategic Objective 2. To Improve Data Collection Technology And Analysis

By improving the quality and timeliness of data received and the methods of analyzing the data, the Commission will be better able to identify problem areas involving commercial vehicle safety. To achieve this objective the Transportation Division purchased pen-based computers for the enforcement officers. This equipment allows daily upload of inspection information from the field to headquarters. Eliminating duplicate data entry has reduced the average time for submitting PSC inspection data to the federal database from three weeks to two days. Strategies to further improve data collection and analysis are:

Strategy a) Purchase Laptop Computers To Replace The Pen-Based Computers To Allow Access To Larger Data Bases And Provide Additional Functions.

Strategy b) Coordinate Collection And Access To Data Among Organizations Involved With Commercial Motor Vehicles And Traffic Enforcement: Department Of Public Safety, Georgia Department Of Transportation, Georgia Department Of Revenue, U. S. Department Of Transportation And Municipal And County Traffic Enforcement Agencies. One Cooperative Project Currently Underway Is Intelligent Transportation System/Commercial Vehicle Operations (ITS/CVO) Initiative.

Strategy c) Test And Implement The Training Course For Other Law Enforcement Agencies In Techniques For Determining The Identity Of The Carrier That Is Operating A Leased Commercial Motor Vehicle And Which Vehicles Are Considered "Commercial Motor Vehicles." This Course Was Developed In 1998 By The Enforcement Unit.

Strategic Objective 3. To Enhance Enforcement Activities

Strategy a) Conduct High Crash Corridor Checks And Concentrated Patrols

In addition to inspecting commercial motor vehicles in their assigned geographic areas of the state, officers participate in concentrated enforcement efforts in high crash corridors. Because of traffic density, the majority of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles occur on sections of Georgia’s highways that are either major transportation arteries or near metropolitan areas. Focusing enforcement in these high-risk areas should reduce accidents, fatalities and injuries involving commercial motor vehicles. During 1998 the Enforcement Unit began conducting these checks. The high crash corridors in the state were identified by location, time-of-day, day-of-week and contributing factors. The local county enforcement agencies participated in some of these efforts providing manpower and communications assistance. Commercial vehicle crashes were reduced during the weeks these checks were conducted. During the last six months high crash corridor checks have been held in eight Georgia counties: Fulton, DeKalb, Bibb, Clayton, Gwinnet, Hall, Richmond and Lowndes. The results of these checks are as follows:

  • Total Inspections 1,871

  • Hazardous Material Inspections 131

  • Out Of Service Drivers 255

  • Out Of Service Vehicles 514

  • Out Of Service Vehicle And Driver 52

  • Citations Issued 292

  • Warnings Given 2,151

Strategy b) Issue Computer-Generated Notices To Motor Carriers Where Flagrant Driver Violations Are Found, e.g., Excessive Speeding, Hours Of Duty Status Violations, Following Too Closely, And Improper Lane Changes.

Strategy c) Perform Special Concentrated Inspections Of Hazardous Material Carriers

Strategic Objective 4. To Evaluate the Need For a Rail Safety Program

Georgia has 4,602 miles of track and is ranked 8th and 6,163 crossings and ranked 7th in the nation. The latest figures that are available (1996), reflect 136 railroad accidents or incidents, which resulted in 18 fatalities and 37 injuries at public highway-rail crossings. According to figures compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration, Georgia is ranked 9th in the nation for accidents and incidents. Promoting the safety of railroad operations should reduce deaths, injuries and damage to property resulting from railroad accidents. Until a rail safety program for Georgia is funded and the Commission enters into an agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to participate in the Rail Safety Program, several strategies should be implemented:

Strategy a) Track The Number And Causes Of Rail Accidents In Georgia By Enforcing Reporting Requirements Currently In Effect.

Strategy b) Monitor The Expansion Of Rail Usage In The State As Commuter Rail Solutions Are Implemented To Address Traffic Congestion And As Shipping Patterns Change Due To Recent Mergers In The Rail Industry.

Strategy c) Research Rail Safety Programs In Other States To Determine The Best Approach For Georgia.

To Enhance the Efficiency and Efficacy of Agency Operations

One of the six strategic priorities set forth in the State Strategic Plan is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations. The Governor challenged all state agencies to look in new ways at every level of their operations. The PSC is continually searching for ways to improve operations and to effectively use its limited resources. Three key aspects of internal operations are process and information management, human resource management and financial management. Strategies have been identified for making improvements in each of these areas. The effective use of information technology will be instrumental in many of these improvement strategies.

The first key area for improvement is internal process and information management. The PSC uses the administrative hearing process to obtain evidence on which the Commissioners base their decisions. The staff has various processes in place to perform its duties, e.g., evaluating financial applications, performing safety inspections or preparing the budget. These processes are highly dependent upon data and other information. Therefore, the use of information technology will be an integral part of any effort to improve efficiency and efficacy.

The second key area under this strategic direction is human resource management. The Commission recognizes that employees are its most valuable and costly resource. The majority of staff members are professionals with degrees and/or other credentials who value training and development to maintain their professional skills.

The third key area relates to financial management. Through the budget and purchasing processes, the agency obtains the resources needed to operate. To ensure that these resources are appropriately acquired and properly safeguarded, an appropriate system of internal controls must be in place.

 

Process and Information Management

Efficient work processes, coupled with an effective management information system, are essential to achieving the Commission's goals of ensuring that affordable and reliable telecommunications, electric and natural gas services are available to consumers and that transportation and gas pipeline safety is continually monitored and improved.  

Process and Information Management Strategic Objectives

Strategic Objective 1. To Evaluate and Improve Agency Work Processes and Management Information Systems.

Where appropriate the Commission can make improvements, even radical changes, to many of its work processes. However, because of restrictions imposed under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Commission must follow procedures prescribed by law for its administrative hearings and rulemaking. Where the Commission is vested with discretion, the processes used by the agency should be reviewed and improved. Customers and stakeholders of these processes should be considered in the development of any proposed modification.

Strategy a) Improve the Case Management System.

Consumers benefit if Commissioners, staff and other interested parties have access to both procedural and substantive information relating to matters pending before the PSC. In the last fiscal year, the Commission opened 1,588 telecommunications cases, 185 electric cases and 60 gas cases and processed 8,214 documents relating to these and other existing matters. Easy access to information regarding the status of all cases affords interested parties or entities the ability to track their progress to ensure that matters are timely and appropriately handled by the Commission. Maintaining an accurate database with information as to staff assignments, scheduling matters and case classifications will enable management to evaluate the agency’s workload to determine if resources need to be reallocated. Currently, the case management system tracks the documents filed in each utility docket and allows the public to access electronic copies of the documents through the Internet. It is envisioned that the system will be expanded to reflect more detailed information about the cases. The Transportation Division is evaluating its case management system to assess areas for improvement.

Strategy b) Streamline Work Processes And Improve Information Management.

It is essential for each unit in the agency to evaluate its work processes and, where appropriate, make them more efficient. Because of the nature of the Commission’s work, it is difficult to separate the collection and analysis of data from the work process itself. These must be evaluated simultaneously and information technology solutions should be incorporated into any modification made to achieve a more efficient process. For example, the Certification and Permitting Unit of the Transportation Division is currently conducting a business analysis of its workflow as part of its effort to consolidate several databases into an integrated Year 2000 compliant system. Additional details about this conversion and other information technology initiatives are in Appendix H.

Strategy c) Identify Obsolete Processes.

As the role of the Commission changes with expanded competition and federal preemption, some of the traditional activities performed by staff will be transformed. These emerging responsibilities should be identified and proposals developed for replacing outdated statutes or rules.

Strategy d) Use Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Where Appropriate.

Historically, the Commission has acted as a quasi-judicial body. As the utility industries move from regulation to competition, the Commission will also have an expanded role as facilitator or mediator. The Commission will mediate disputes between different competitive providers in the marketplace and resolve disputes between providers and their customers. Alternative dispute resolution can make the Commission more accessible and reduce the cost of resolving these disputes.

Strategic Objective 1. To Revise Commission Rules, Policies and Procedures.

All Commission rules, policies and procedures should be reviewed and additions, deletions and modifications identified. A strategic planning team was established in 1998 to review, improve and document the administrative and operating procedures of the agency. Numerous modifications to Commission rules are expected with the changes brought about by federal and state deregulation laws and changes in the federal transportation statutes.

 

Human Resource Management

The Industrial Age is behind us and the Information Age is upon us, with "knowledge" workers and "service" workers as the dominant groups in the private and public sector workforce. Taxpayers and consumers are demanding more accountability for the ways their monies are spent and the cost of the services they buy. However, research shows that capital alone cannot be substituted for labor and technology alone cannot generate higher productivity (Drucker, Managing for the Future, 1992). The worker is the critical path to success in today’s society.

The Georgia Public Service Commission is committed to professionalism and development of its staff. Recently, the Commission has enhanced human resource management through the following initiatives:

  • Reorganizing the divisions to flatten the hierarchy and to reduce middle management positions and increase customer service positions;

  • Using across-agency teams to increase awareness of its mission and responsibilities of each unit, to identify and share resources, to brainstorm and to solve problems, to participate in strategic planning and results-based budgeting activities, and to meet day-to-day workloads;

  • Controlling personnel actions with a tracking system to capture information and decisions about when, where, how and if positions are to be filled;

  • Evaluating salary parity by using a systematic parity model to study, identify and adjust salaries of current employees;

  • Allowing true flex time reporting to accommodate employees returning to the university setting to increase credentials;

  • Creatively tailoring training and workshops to meet the skills development needs of the staff, especially in the area of technology and program knowledge; and,

  • Reducing reliance on outside consultants by committing to professional advancement of PSC staff through substantive and technical training.

In 1997 the Human Resources Office adopted this set of guiding principles:

  • Respect and protect the dignity of individuals.

  • Honor an employee’s right to fair consideration in all aspects of employment.

  • Foster and apply fair management practices and principles.

  • Encourage and aid employees in developing their full potential.

  • Represent the interests of candidates and employees in all management plans and decisions.

  • Assist employees and management in understanding and fulfilling their mutual responsibilities and obligations.

  • Share freely our time and knowledge.

  • Treat information accepted in trust as privileged.

  • Preserve the integrity of the PSC and its employees.

Human Resources Strategic Objectives

In addition to these initiatives, the following strategic objectives and strategies have been identified to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of human resource management at the PSC:

Strategic Objective 1. To Create A Learning Organization.

A learning organization can be created by connecting the Commission to its environment, empowering the staff towards a collective vision, establishing systems to capture and share learning, encouraging collaboration and team learning, promoting inquiry and dialogue, and creating continuous learning opportunities (Watkins, Creating the Learning Organization, 1996.)

Strategic Objective 2. To Enhance Staff Development.

Strategy a) Tie Staff Development To Performance.

Professional development is critical to maintaining and enhancing the professional competence of the staff. The regulatory environment, composition of the industry and technology are continually changing. Unless staff is allowed to keep abreast of these new developments and interact with colleagues, the quality of regulation in Georgia will suffer. Areas for development should be tied to staff performance, staff assignments and Commission goals. This is being accomplished through the Performance Management System.

Strategy b) Encourage Participation in Professional and Industry Associations.

Staff should be encouraged to participate in state and national associations to obtain pertinent and timely information and to gain national recognition for the agency. Networking at conferences will provide contacts in other states and facilitate research efforts. Some of these associations include the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (SEARUC), Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives (NAPSR).

Strategy c) Continue Cross-Training and Succession Planning.

Over the next three to five years several key employees at the Commission will be eligible for retirement. Efforts are underway to cross-train staff so that adverse effects of these anticipated retirements will be minimized. Experienced employees frequently have other job opportunities, so cross training should not be limited to those positions held by employees who may retire.

Strategy d) Train New Enforcement Officers.

For FY99 the General Assembly approved seven additional enforcement officers for the Commission. Together with vacancies in the Enforcement Unit the Commission will have thirteen new corporals to train this year. A training program has been developed which combines classroom and field training. Three officers have been dedicated to this effort.

Strategic Objective 2. To Attract and Retain Qualified Staff.

Through effective recruiting practices quality candidates will be hired. Due to the complexity of the Commission’s work it takes several years and considerable resources before a new recruit can function independently and be a fully contributing member of the team. Periodic promotions or pay adjustments will be necessary to keep these individuals as members of the Commission’s staff.

 

Financial Management

The Budget and Fiscal Office provides support to the entire agency by coordinating the budget process and performing the purchasing and accounting functions. These services are essential to PSC operations to obtain the resources required to fulfill its statutory duties and to ensure that an appropriate system of internal controls is in place to safeguard those resources. In the State Strategic Plan the Governor emphasizes that agencies must "focus their commitment and resources upon results and be willing to measure their performance and be accountable." The Budget and Fiscal Office implemented results-based budgeting, a process for identifying the desired outcome of the Commission’s efforts and measuring progress toward achieving its goals. 

Fiscal and Budget Strategic Objectives

The PSC has identified two strategic objectives: (1) To ensure the sound financial management of available resources; and (2) To minimize disruption during the two agency moves. The following strategies have been developed to achieve these objectives.

Strategic Objective 1. To Ensure Sound Financial Management of Available Resources.

Strategy a) Fully Implement Results-Based Budgeting (RBB).

The Office of Planning and Budget commended the Commission on its RBB document and cited it as a model for other agencies. The PSC’s Budget and Fiscal Office used a team approach to implement the first phase of RBB. The next phase involves measuring actual results and comparing them to the desired objectives. The success of the Commission’s work units in achieving these objectives will be considered in future budget allocations to the agency.

Strategy b) Develop an Operating Procedures Manual.

A usable operating-procedures manual will be developed to document the activities currently performed by the Fiscal Office and ensure consistency in the future. The manual will also document the agency-wide procedures for staff. The procedures to be included in the manual have been identified. The next steps are to flowchart the process and identify areas for improvement.

Strategy c) Develop and Implement an Improved Property Accountability System.

A more accurate and usable inventory control system for Commission property will be developed. Safeguarding state property will also be a consideration in the design of this system.

Strategic Objective 1. To Manage the Renovation and Relocation Process for the Commission.

In late 1997 the Commission moved to temporary quarters while its permanent offices are being renovated. In mid-1998, Pipeline Safety was relocated from a satellite location to the Commission’s temporary offices. These moves were completed with minimum disruption to work activities. During the next two years the PSC will continue to work closely with Georgia Building Authority and Department Of Administrative Services in designing the permanent offices and coordinating the return move. The PSC hopes to improve access to facilities, comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, enhance security and improve the overall working environment at the Commission.

 

To Demonstrate a Commitment to All Customers and Stakeholders

The PSC has numerous customers and stakeholders with whom it interacts and, as a result, cannot operate in a vacuum. Because the Commission is a relatively small agency with limited resources, it must work cooperatively with a large and varied network of internal and external partners in the public and private sectors. Appendix F has detailed information about the Commission’s initiatives that demonstrate its commitment to customers and stakeholders.

The Commission demonstrates this commitment in two primary ways—by providing Consumer Protection and Public Information and Education. The Commission is a governmental agency whose business purpose includes exchanging information with customers and stakeholders. Although an extensive amount of highly complex and technical information is available for public consumption, it often must be explained so that it can be readily understood by the Commission’s diverse customer base. It must then be made available through a variety of methods depending upon its intended audience. As regulated industries become competitive the PSC will be the principal source of objective information for utility consumers and the public concerning the identity, service area and performance of providers.

The Commission continues to enhance its consumer protection function and to increase and intensify its agency-wide public information and education efforts. These efforts require increased teamwork and communication among staff in addition to enhanced training so that each staff member understands the role that he or she plays in helping the agency accomplish its objectives.

Strategic Objectives

Two strategic objectives relate to this area: (1) Enhance consumer protection and public information and education; and (2) Expand outreach efforts with external stakeholders. Several specific strategies have been identified to accomplish these objectives.

Strategic Objective 1. To Enhance Consumer Protection and Public Information and Education

Sweeping changes in utility markets and regulatory practices are creating a bewildering array of choices for consumers. At the same time, increased competition between companies has led to more aggressive marketing approaches and sharp business practices, including the unauthorized switching of long distance service (also known as ""slamming"). Consumer contacts with the Commission have increased fivefold in the past ten years, which amounts to an annual growth rate of 20.45%. Consumers are also becoming increasingly demanding, expecting quicker, more convenient and more personalized attention in response to their concerns.

As the number of providers continues to rise, the Commission’s role as protector will become increasingly more important. Providing education and disseminating public information are services integral to the PSC’s consumer protection function. Without accurate and timely information consumers will not know their rights, how to protect themselves or what to do if their rights are violated. The Commission is expanding its public information and education efforts to educate customers and stakeholders about Commission decisions, new competitors and safety issues. The increasing numbers and types of inquiries received by the Commission prove that the confusion created by consumers suddenly facing a deregulated world and aggressive marketing tactics employed by telecommunications companies warrants a heightened need for extensive public education and information. The Commission is uniquely positioned to provide reliable, unbiased information to enable consumers to protect themselves from the myriad of scams and abuses already becoming prevalent within this competitive framework. Several strategies will be implemented to enhance consumer protection and public information and education.

Strategy a) Track Consumer Response System Complaint Trends.

The Commission will continue to use complaint trends and other relevant information derived from consumers and other sources to determine regulatory priorities, undertake investigations and initiate enforcement proceedings. The interactive Consumer Response System (CRS) for electric, gas and telecommunications matters, which was implemented in 1997, has enabled the Commission to: (1) determine the number and types of complaints filed against new telephone service providers before granting them a permanent certificate; (2) identify on a weekly basis those companies with three or more reported incidents of unauthorized changes in customers’ carriers of choice; (3) produce charts showing complaint trends for each industry; (4) identify companies alleged to have placed unauthorized charges on customer bills (a practice known as "cramming"); and (5) to red flag emerging issues of concern to consumers. In the next year the Commission will make CRS system enhancements to expedite internal and external communications thus decreasing response time to consumers as well as increase the number and types of reports generated. The Transportation Division is in the process of developing an electronic consumer response system for complaints and inquiries about household goods and other carriers.

Strategy b) Participate in the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) Ad Hoc Committee on Consumer Affairs.

The Commission will continue to participate in the activities of the NARUC Ad Hoc Committee on Consumer Affairs. The Committee’s work produced: (1) a report that includes information from each state about what consumer education materials their commission uses, what methods they employ to educate consumers and how effective they believe those methods are; (2) a bibliography of consumer education materials that is accessible to all states via the NARUC home page; and (3) consumer education templates for energy (gas and electric), water, and telecommunications that states may use to create their own publications. The Commission will use these materials to expand the information available to Georgia citizens.

Strategy c) Monitor Marketing and Other Practices of Utilities.

The Commission will develop and establish benchmarks for investigating the practices of utility providers that may be acting in a manner inconsistent with applicable rules, tariffs or statutes. During the past year, staff identified and investigated telecommunication companies that were: (1) violating the county-wide toll-free calling rule; (2) engaging in deceptive telemarketing practices; (3) adding unauthorized charges to customer bills (cramming); and (4) changing customers’ carriers of choice without authorization (slamming). The Commission has revoked or refused to renew telecommunications resellers’ interim certificates because of slamming complaints. Another reseller was fined for using deceptive telemarketing tactics to slam consumers. Customer complaints about the practices of companies in the other regulated industries are also monitored and vigorously pursued. For example, in the household goods industry field operations will be enhanced with onsite inspections of carrier complaint records to ascertain whether the carrier is operating in the public interest.

Strategy d) Install an Automatic Call Distribution System.

This coming year the Commission will install an automatic call distribution system to replace its outdated manual system with funding obtained in the FY99 budget. Based on an average annual growth rate of 20.45% over the past ten years, approximately 64,293 contacts are projected for the coming year. This new equipment will help the Commission manage this increase in contacts, improve response time to callers, and provide the Commission with additional information such as caller wait time, number of calls received, length of calls and number of callers that hang up before receiving assistance. Installation of this system will be coordinated with the needs of all units in the agency.

Strategy e) Continue the Transportation Division’s Public Information and Education (PIE) Program.

The Commission will continue to supply carriers and individuals with information about commercial vehicle safety and regarding requirements for insurance, registration, and procedures for filing complaints. PIE materials have been developed on numerous topics and include over 40 brochures or pamphlets. Additional consumer information brochures will be developed regarding responsibilities of motor carriers when moving household goods. This information will educate consumers about protecting their property against loss, making damage claims and reporting inadequate service from household goods and other carriers.

Strategy f) Expand Electronic Access to Commission Information.

The Commission has used its Internet web-site to expand the information available to its customers and stakeholders. The Commission’s home page was modified to provide easier access and to include: (1) information about the electric, gas, telephone and transportation industries; (2) motor carrier and gas pipeline safety; (3) a consumer corner; (4) general information about the Commission; (5) job openings; (6) news releases on consumer issues and major policy decisions; and (7) electronic filing and document retrieval capabilities. At this time, the Commission’s web page includes a household goods and consumer services report card that is updated weekly; a list of movers that is not certified by the PSC; a report on electric restructuring in Georgia; a consumer’s guide to natural gas deregulation; a database of certified telecommunications providers and application forms; a newsletter for pipeline safety operators; information about rates for residential electric customers; and the most current annual report and strategic plan of the Commission. Additional information will be made available on this site to ensure that consumers and stakeholders have ready access to accurate and understandable information necessary to make informed decisions about utility services.

Strategy g) Effectively Use the Media.

Good media relations are essential to the Commission because the media serve as "gatekeeper," often controlling not only the content but also the actual information that is disseminated to the public. Good press relations make news reporters’ jobs easier when they are fast, factual, frank, fair and friendly. The Commission will continue to work with the media to provide information to assist consumers and inform the public about policy decisions, safety matters and other utility issues. In addition, the Commission will develop a media tracking system for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of its relations with the press. 

Strategic Objective 2. To Expand Outreach Efforts With External Stakeholders.

Because the Commission is a relatively small agency with limited resources, it must work cooperatively with a large and varied network of internal and external partners in the public and private sectors. Government organizations as well as many associations and advocacy groups have a stake in Commission decisions. Appendix F lists some of the Commission’s stakeholders.

Strategy a) Expand Use of Educational Seminars and Training on Safety Matters.

Educational seminars with industry personnel are used by the Commission to promote an understanding and appreciation for safety regulations and to assure the public that industry and government are effectively minimizing the risk posed by natural gas pipelines. The Commission promotes safe and secure transportation of natural gas through participation in educational seminars and meetings with the industry. This statewide training includes in-depth compliance classes to educate operator personnel on proper safety procedures and practices. Such training helps ensure that the systems are installed, operated and maintained in a safe and responsible manner. To better inform the public and improve safety, the Commission is expanding the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety program to include more public education and safety training. The pipeline safety inspectors will provide safety instruction in public schools and speak to various civic groups about natural gas safety. To accomplish this objective on a statewide basis, pipeline safety inspectors now receive certification before they conduct training.

Members of the Commission’s Enforcement Unit participate in numerous meetings, seminars and public outreach programs annually where pertinent safety and hazardous materials information is disseminated. These meetings may be held at a motor carrier’s facility, in formal seminar settings or through public outreach in a welcome center or other setting.

Strategy b) Improve Government Relations.

The Commission interacts with a large number of the different branches of state government, federal agencies, Georgia’s congressional delegation and agencies in other states and nations. With the recent trends in government and regulation it is essential for the Commission to cooperate more closely with these various governmental entities. To increase awareness about the Commission’s changing role and responsibilities, presentations were made to the Governor and his staff, to the legislative budget office and to the budget review and oversight committee staff of the general assembly in late 1997. In 1998 the Commission’s legislative liaison worked with decision makers on key legislative matters, including, but not limited to, HB 71, which mandates the establishment by the Commission of a list of residential subscribers who do not wish to be called by telemarketers. Some Commissioners and staff members met with Georgia Representatives as part of NARUC’s Day on the Hill to provide them with briefing materials on critical regulatory issues that may require federal legislation. Efforts such as these will be used to enhance government relations and ensure that consumers’ interests are reflected in the state and federal decision-making processes.

Strategy c) Work Cooperatively With Industries.

The Commission will continue to collaborate with regulated companies, their related industry associations and consumer associations on emerging issues that will affect everyone, e.g., electric industry restructuring, number portability and Year 2000 compliance.