Utility Oversight:

Survey of State Public Utility Commissions on Utility Commission Authorities and Reporting Responsibilities For Overseeing Utilities Since the Passage of EPAct 2005 (GAO-08-290SP, February 2008), an E-supplement to GAO-08-289

GAO-08-290SP: Published: Feb 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 2008.

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Mark E. Gaffigan
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This document is the companion product to GAO-08-289, which was released on March 7, 2008. This document presents the results of GAO's survey of the staff of state commissions that oversee regulated electrical and natural gas utilities. The responses represent the views of these staff and may not represent the formal position or informal opinions of state commissions or any specific commissioner. We conducted an internet-based survey of state utility commissions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine states' current regulatory authorities, recent oversight activities, and available resources for regulating utilities. In addition, we asked utility commissions for their views on utility regulation in light of the passage of EPAct 2005--particularly their views of federal agency authorities related to utility mergers, oversight of affiliate transactions, and financial reporting. Note, some survey questions cover periods prior to the passage of EPAct 2005.

To ensure that we obtained information from those staff with knowledge of state electric and natural gas regulation, we obtained designated staff contact points for each commission from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), a national organization that represents state public utility commissions, then sent letters to the chairmen of each utility commission describing our survey and its purpose, and asking them to confirm these contacts or to designate a more appropriate contact. For security and data integrity purposes, we provided each official with a username and password to access and complete the survey. We received responses from 49 states plus the District of Columbia, although officials did not always provide responses to every question. One state declined to respond due to other high priority activities occurring at the time of our survey. Because we administered the survey to all of the state public utility commissions, our results are not subject to sampling error. However, the practical difficulties of conducting any survey may introduce other types of errors, commonly referred to as nonsampling errors. For example, differences in how a particular question is interpreted, the sources of information available to respondents in answering a question, or the types of people who do not respond can introduce unwanted variability into the survey results To reduce nonsampling errors, we had knowledgeable officials at NARUC review the survey to make sure they understood the questions. We also pretested the survey with two states to ensure that (1) the questions were clear and unambiguous, (2) terminology was used correctly (3) the survey did not place an undue burden on commission officials, and (4) the survey was comprehensive and unbiased. In selecting the pretest sites, we sought the advice of NARUC and selected states that had different types of regulatory requirements. We incorporated these reviewers' comments into the final survey. A discussion of our scope and methodology and a discussion related to some of the survey results are contained in our report entitled: "Utility Oversight: Recent Changes in Law Call for Improved Vigilance by FERC" GAO-08-289. We conducted our survey work from January 8, 2007 to June 30, 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

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