Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Brian Stiger as the head of the Department of Consumer Affairs on August 11. Stiger had spent the previous two years as director of the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, taking over during a troubled period on the board.
Things were kind of crazy there (at the Chiropractic Board), then we stopped hearing about it.
We were able to get things settled down over at the Chiropractic Board. We got our enforcement woes resolved, set up a brand new system over there, and over the past two years have done a really good job of reducing their backlog about 50 percent and decreasing the amount of time it takes to take disciplinary acts against licensee who commit pretty egregious violations of the law.
Tell me a little bit about what you learned taking over the Chiropractic Board that you plan to use running the DCA?
Enforcement was a real big learning opportunity for me over at the Board of Chiropractic Examiners. As you recall, we had a 50 percent budget cut and had to lay off half of our staff. So I really had to take up the reins and get involved in enforcement. I learned the intricacies of enforcement over at the Chiropractic Board. We had to make changes, improve our processes to get our numbers down. The system worked. The staff believed in the system. They did an outstanding job of really trusting in the system.
Now over here at the Department of Consumer Affairs we’re trying to create a brand new system. Some of the stuff we did over at the Chiro Board will fit nicely into this system. But we are putting in a brand new system because the system that is here right now, it just doesn’t work well. Its nobody’s fault, it’s just the system that has been in place for a long time no longer works to protect consumers the way we think that it should.
As I understand, there have been some enforcement issues going on at other boards, particularly having to do with substance abuse with the Nurses Board and the Medical Board.
What we’ve done with the Board of Registered Nursing, we have supported their efforts to revamp their enforcement system. We have augmented their staff with Department of Consumer Affairs staff with regards to complaint intake. We’re in the process of helping them hire five new special investigators in the next week or two to work on the backlog of complaints. We also have the Attorney General’s office matched up with the Board of Registered Nursing to look at their existing complaints to see if there might be a better way to handle them. We’re working with the board to hire a new executive officer. There are several things that we have implemented over the last couple of weeks to get that board stabilized.
Was it hard to get funding for investigators in the current budget situation?
We did an analysis of our budget and found that they can actually absorb these new investigators. We’re going to hire them on a two-year limited term. Think of it as temporary staff. We’re putting them in place to work down the backlog.
Tell me a little bit about vertical enforcement.
Vertical enforcement is a concept that is currently being used at the Medical Board. Many local law enforcement [agencies] actually use vertical enforcement. When these really egregious complaints come in, the concept is to unite the prosecutor and the investigator handling the case so they can team up, plan out the investigation, and hopefully have a seamless investigation and prosecution. There are certainly recommendations by the legislature that vertical enforcement be expanded throughout the department. It’s one option we’re looking at.
The governor and legislature have been looking to eliminate many state boards and combine others. Do you feel this is appropriate? What are some moves you’re planning to streamline operations?
There have been some consolidations among Boards and Bureaus. For instance, the Bureau of Electronic Appliance Repair was combined with the Bureau of Home Furnishings. I think that was an excellent move. There have been some other healing arts boards that have been consolidated. For the most part, I think those have been really good, sound policy decisions.
What are some other ways in which consumer protection could be improved?
Enforcement is pretty complex. When we look at enforcement, there’s complaint intake, there’s the investigation itself, and there’s prosecution. Right now, the entire process floats between four or five different agencies, so accountability is somewhat lost. With our new enforcement model we’re trying to focus accountability on the licensing boards and DCA. We figure if we can, that will take us a long way in improving the enforcement model.
We’re talking all types of enforcement? It could be substance abuse, it could be false advertising?
Every violation of the law. We have a lot of tools that are currently in place. We want to add to those tools. We’re looking at delegating subpoena power to our licensing boards so they can get records and evidence quicker. It speeds up the process. We’re looking at giving them guidelines on how to prioritize complaints. We’re really trying to look under every rock.
For me, I tend to specialize in operations. I’m not fancy. I focus on the basics. It seems like getting down to the basics is no longer popular. I make sure there are policies and procedures in place, that employees know what their job is, how to do it, and then give them some flexibility to make decisions.
You’re coming into a job of revamping an agency fairly late into a governor’s term. Do you hope to stay on under the next governor?
I am focused on the job at hand for as long as I’m here. If we can move the ball forward for the next administration, that’s a great goal for me.