Certification of Regulatory Professionals

Reader responses to the April 2015 essay, "Certification of Regulatory Professionals:  Why Not?":


From Nancy Brockway, NBrockway & Associates

Because certification excludes good professionals and protects bad ones.  And it is not needed. 


From Marty Cohen, Martin Roth Cohen & Associates

Thanks for writing up this bold and provocative proposal. As a self-taught 30 year participant in the regulatory process (who has served as a consumer advocate, commission chairman (briefly!), expert witness and consultant—all without an advanced degree of any kind—I respond first with questions: 

  • What problem would certification solve? Is there evidence that the public interest has been harmed because of ignorance on the part of commission staff? On the part of expert witnesses? (If so, please point to it)
  • Would certification be required for all commissioners and staff positions?  For witnesses? Attorneys?
  • What would be the role of non-certified persons and stakeholder representatives in the regulatory process? Would they be given a new status that means their testimony gets less consideration? How would that work? Or would they be prohibited from participating?
  • Would governors be restricted to appointing only certified regulators? Or would the decision makers themselves be the only ones exempted?

As you know, my views are far from libertarian but I question the purpose of certification in the regulatory process (see first question above). And I’d point out that, while in some professional fields you mentioned (such as pilots and plumbers and dentists) there is clearly a public interest in assuring that nobody practices without a license,  for some others certification largely serves to restrict participation by providing a barrier to entry for competitors.  In the case of public utility regulatory process there may be even less need for certification than for cosmetologists and barbers because it is the credibility of facts and opinions that is primary in decision making, not the education or  standing or demonstrated skill of the individual making the argument. The credibility and background of a witness is always fair game in the adversarial process, as it should be, but cases are decided by the weight of the evidence, not the stature of who is presenting it.

Some of us like it that way.


From Nicholas A. (Nick) Brown, President & Chief Executive Officer, Southwest Power Pool

With regulation charged with protecting the public interest, it only makes sense to me that those involved in the process demonstrate at least some minimal level of expertise to protect that interest.  Most important of all these persons are the commissioners.  

Here's something to consider in your future discussion:  In every strategic planning cycle for SPP over the last 20 years, regulatory turnover is identified as our single largest risk.  The turnover rate for the commissioners in our 8 states and at FERC is about 50% every 18 months.  The learning curve is steep, industries varied and complex, and turnover high --- OUCH!



There is a growing need to significantly elevate the scope and quantity of knowledge possessed by people who work within and guide the regulatory process. But, is it more important to first determine what functions must be performed by the regulation of businesses affected with the public interest and where the public interest might be better served by getting regulation (as we know it) out of the way. There is no value in regulation per se. The potential value of people holding certificates that attest to their ability to "regulate" ultimately depends on the potential value of the regulation itself and the ability of regulation to adapt and continuously improve its relevance to a public interest mission.


In the absence of significant health, pubic safety, and similar concerns, such certification or licensure serves to do little more than create a barrier to entry meant to enrich a select group or groups. Those certified and those in charge of certification (particularly when such certifications are mandatory) engage in protectionism without purpose. If we trust our regulators to make good decisions (and we must), we can certainly trust them to analyze the credibility of witnesses in terms of skill, veracity, etc. These ruminations about certification address no problem, protect no public interest, and serve only those uniquely positioned to benefit financially from the faux-exclusivity created by requiring training, testing, continuing education hosting, and recertifying. Those are not cost-less endeavors. Their costs will greatly outweigh the limited benefits, particularly to the often cash-strapped regulators and non-profit interest groups who add great value to the regulatory process.


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