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Evers’ DSPS still a mess

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services no longer wants to be bothered with lawmaker emails on behalf of frustrated constituents suffering through long professional license application delays. Instead, the bungling agency has developed a “new tool” requiring lawmakers to become case workers for DSPS.

It’s the latest example of what state Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) has described as the failings of an “absentee governor” — and untold numbers of Wisconsinites have been hurt because of the administration’s lack of leadership.

In an email to legislators last week, DSPS legislative liaison Michael Tierney advises DSPS is launching a Case Management System for legislative offices to use when “receiving inquiries from constituents regarding licensure, plan review, complaints, or other issues.”

Wisconsin lawmakers have received a lot of “inquiries”, mostly complaints, from everyone from accountants to social workers about what has been nothing short of a state license crisis. Empower Wisconsin has spoken to and detailed the accounts of dozens of credential applicants and professional advocacy organizations about long delays and poor communication at DSPS. Some have been waiting a year or more for their license applications to be processed.

The new CMS appears to be the incompetent government agency’s way of shifting some of its work on to legislative aides. DSPS agents have been routinely slow in returning emails and calls from legislative offices and their frustrated constituents, according to multiple sources. But the new system cuts out those contacts altogether, requiring lawmakers’ staff to enter and update information into the system.

“Because we work with legislative offices, industry stakeholders, persons applying for licensure, and credential holder organizations, the CMS has been created to provide legislative offices with a direct and transparent tool to provide information directly to department staff members who are working to process applications,” Tierney wrote. “Rather than emailing or calling, the CMS will enable you to provide this information directly to staff and receive information in the most efficient manner possible.”

Sortwell, who co-chairs the Study Committee on Occupational Licensing looking into the DSPS mess, said he’s not entirely sure what the agency is trying to accomplish. He said he wasn’t alerted before the email to legislative offices went out last week.

“Without understanding it a little bit better, the Legislature is more than happy to try to pick up the slack for the governor’s failures, to serve our constituents despite the fact that DSPS can’t get this processed,” he said. The Study Committee has scheduled a public hearing on the agency Tuesday at the Capitol.

One legislative staff member said her team now has to re-enter every constituent inquiry that the office has received about professional licensing that is still pending.

“In our office alone – this is at least 15 cases that are still open at this time,” she said.

In April, DSPS ordered a license processing “blackout” period for more than two weeks while it upgraded from its paper-filing system to an e-file system. It said it would not accept initial license applications for 72 license types between noon, April 29 and May 15. Professionals from acupuncturists to wholesale distributors of prescription drugs were affected. Other licenses (initial applications and renewals) were to transition to the LicensE system in subsequent phases, the agency said.

The blackout happened just as thousands of new professionals were graduating from their respective schools.

“These hardworking individuals are trying to make a living but are being prevented by this government entity just because these bureaucrats are unable to figure out how to do their job effectively,” State Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) said last month.

Evers’ team has blamed a lack of funding for the delays, an argument debunked by the record.

“Millions of dollars have been doled out to the DSPS –and other agencies – to improve staffing and technology. In the past two budgets, over 10 new positions have been added for Professional Trade and Regulation and over $10 million was allocated for IT upgrades and online licensing,” Knodl said.

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