A merger of the state's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) with the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is still being considered but many now believe it wouldn't be a good idea.
Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel said that a survey is currently being conducted on the merger of the two departments by officials at the state Department of Administration. They are asking licensees what they think of a change that would put all the functions of DSPS at DATCP.
Brancel said the survey results are supposed to be submitted by the end of the year so results will be known at that time, but he's hearing from many sides that the proposed merger wouldn't be the state's best option.
The DSPS was created when the Department of Commerce was changed to an Economic Development Corporation at the beginning of the Walker administration. The parts of the Commerce Department's duties that didn't fit with that corporation — licensing approvals, safety regulations and advisory boards — were moved to the newly created DSPS.
Earlier this year, as lawmakers talked about streamlining government and cutting budgets, they came up with the idea of merging DATCP with these licensing roles and doing away with DSPS. A study on the plan was ordered by the legislature.
The DSPS is responsible for licensing 250 professions and works with 79 advisory panels to get this work done properly.
There are 450,000 license holders who are regulated by DPSP, including nurses, dental hygienists, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, barbers, veterinarians, beauticians and others.
There are 160 or so DSPS employees in Madison and 319 authorized positions in locations outside Madison who are authorized on building and safety issues, elevators and equipment inspections.
During the budget process, lawmakers did take action to transfer the DSPS petroleum tank program to DATCP, where a weights and measures bureau within Consumer Protection has already been responsible for making sure gasoline pumps are accurately measuring out the amount of motor fuel that consumers are paying for.
Weights and measures staffers also assure the accuracy of retail price scanners and things like agricultural scales as well.
Since DATCP already had staff in place that were visiting fuel pumps, it only made sense to transfer other functions related to motor fuels to the agency, lawmakers reasoned.
As a result, about 40 employees were transferred to DATCP from the DSPS tank inspection program
Brancel said his agency is in the process of cross-training employees on tank inspection processes and "it's proceeding very well. The staff from both agencies are doing very well with it."
Going forward, staff at DATCP will not only make sure that the petroleum pumps are working correctly and recording correct amounts, they will also be the ones to make sure that the fuels are what they say they are, through testing at the state's metrology lab where new equipment is being installed. They will also be charged with making sure tanks are safe.
Talking to the former DSPS employees who now work in the DATCP headquarters, Brancel said they seem pretty happy to be there. "They like being at this agency."
The remainder of the merger, which could end up changing the name of the department if it was instituted, is still up in the air, pending the results of the survey that is being wrapped up. Lawmakers' initial proposal was to change the department's name to the Department of Agriculture, Regulation and Trade (DART) a name Brancel said he couldn't live with.
"I won't have a target on my back," he said, referring to the acronym.