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A look behind the scenes of the PSC’s Staff

  

Missouri’s Public Service Commission (PSC) meets every week to consider its agenda, reviewing working dockets on various cases involving the state’s utilities. While agenda items frequently include recommendations from different entities, one group provides its input in every case — the PSC’s Staff.

Here’s a look at how Staff operates, what cases it takes on, and how it factors into the commission’s work. 

“The PSC Staff is a group of professionals in the fields of engineering, accounting, law, finance, management, economics, and customer service,” PSC Public Information Administrator Kevin Kelly told The Missouri Times. 

“Staff is separate from the PSC itself,” Kelly continued. “The five commissioners decide all cases brought before them — when Staff makes a recommendation or expresses an opinion, it’s something the commission would consider along with all other testimony that would be involved in a particular case.”

Staff evaluates cases and proposes solutions that, in its opinion, represent the best outcome for both utility companies and the general public. Its testimony carries the same weight as any other party in a case.

 Staff is the only entity not allowed to appeal a PSC case after a decision has been rendered. 

The commission sets a procedural schedule for cases based on requests from companies, Staff, and any other parties involved, generally favoring the parties that submit their requests first. In a rate case, the commission has an 11-month timespan to issue a decision based on Missouri statutes, according to Kelly. 

While most PSC documents simply refer to “Staff,” different sections take on different types of cases. Natelle Dietrich, director of the Industrial Analysis Division, said her section takes on some of the more technical cases. 

“Our division includes engineers, auditors, policy analysts, and inspectors,” Dietrich said. “Many of the working dockets are related to technical issues or rulemaking, so our division takes the lead on those, facilitating workshops and putting together a report at the end of the process informing the commission of what stakeholders had to say during the process.” 

The Staff Counsel Division makes legal recommendations on regulating investor-owned sewer, gas. water, steam, and telecommunications ventures, as well as manufactured housing. Its primary duties involve aiding Staff in legal proceedings and presenting legal arguments before the PSC.

“Everything we do is in-house, before the commission,” Staff Counsel Division Director Kevin Thompson said. “We don’t take any of the cases to court or do anything outside the building.”

Staff members agreed that while the work could be complicated, it was rewarding to serve Missouri’s utilities, customers, and the PSC. 

“In addition to being interesting and challenging, it’s very important work,” Thompson said.

Outside of its consideration of working dockets, Staff’s roles range from assisting customers with individual inquires to investigating multi-million dollar rate change requests for the commission.

Staff in the Financial and Business Administration Division consider business-based cases, evaluating issues of finance, business conduct, utility accounting, and service quality and customer experience. The division includes financial and procurement analysts.

The Administration Divison includes human resources, an IT department, budgetary and fiscal experts, the public information office, and a legislative team the division is tasked with ensuring the PSC operates efficiently. 

Customer Experience Department Staff participate in audits and cases over utility rate changes, tariffs, and rulemaking. It also evaluates the quality of water and sewer services and examines a utility’s customer billing, credit and collections, complaint handling, and record-keeping practices. This division meets with utility companies every quarter to discuss customer experience feedback. 

The Public Information Staff collaborates with Consumer Services and the customer experience department on consumer education programs.

Manufactured Housing and Modular Units Program Staff oversee and consider manufactured homes and modular units. It conducts regular inspections and enforces uniform standards for manufacturing and maintenance. 

Staff is also tasked with assisting the commission in overseeing a number of programs, including Southwest Power Pool (SPP) working groups, transmission planning activities, and conducting annual on-site visits to various facilities.