The State Legislative Auditor briefed a Senate Committee on the results of an audit of the Public Utilities Commission completed in February. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.
The State Public Utilities Commission regulates 17-hundred entities that provide electricity, gas, telecommunications, private water and sewage and carrier transportation services in Hawai’i. Legislative Auditor, Les Kondo, says state auditors did not examine the PUC’s technical day-to-day operations but focused instead on its strategic plan and computerized document management system.
“We don’t think they have a strategic plan. So, if you are just grading whether or not they have a strategic plan, then they don’t. So that grade would be, “F.” If you’re asking about the document management system, it’s poor. It’s less than “C.” ”D,” maybe.”
Auditors also examined staff experience and retention, which, Kondo says, were both lacking.
“Forty-five out of 56 staff members or 80 percent, were having employed at the commission for less than 2 years. Nineteen of those are recent hires, meaning they have been employed at the commission for one year or less. And of the attorneys staff, only one has been at the commission for more than 5 years.”
Former Honolulu City Councilman, State Senator and attorney, Randall Iwase, took over as PUC chair in January 2015. He’s not surprised by the audit results but said the PUC’s goals and mission statement constitute a strategic plan and are being implemented daily in PUC directives. Iwase also said staff shortages have improved in the last couple of years from 34 to 59 positions filled. He said vacancies are primarily due to low state salaries.
“When I came in, I think we had 4 attorneys. We now have 10. We’ve lost one and believe me, it is pay. I tried my best. I went to the max in our salary scale to keep it. That is a challenge. It will always be a challenge.”
Chair Iwase says the PUC’s 2.8 million dollar computerized document management system is problematic but a replacement system has not been requested or funded. Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee chair, Roslyn Baker, said previous state audits arrived at similar conclusions. She requested strategic and staff training plans and a document management system replacement.
“The legislature doesn’t want to micromanage the PUC. And, we look forward to getting your updates, what the plans are prior to the next session and what progress you’re making. And then if there are any request for resources, we can plan for that.”
The legislative auditor, meanwhile, will return to the PUC over the next two years to assess the progress being made in implementing the audit recommendations. Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.